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Whose business are you in?

Someone asked me this somewhat snotty-sounding question the other day, and it really got my attention.

Granted, it was in the context of unpacking an unhelpful belief using Byron Katie’s four questions, but still. I was viscerally reminded of times I’d asked “inappropriate questions” as a child and got a glare and “that’s none of your business.”

The basic idea is that there are three kinds of business:

1. Your business
2. Someone else’s business
3. God’s business (or whatever word you may have for the mysterious forces at work in our universe)

I’ve noticed that often when we feel really stuck with our calling – questioning whether we’re on the right track, feeling alone, getting close to burn out – we’re focused on someone else’s business.

For example, who’s business is it that the unemployment rate is up? Your actions may contribute to this situation, but you yourself did not create and cannot undo the problem. Now, if you’re thinking that there’s no point in pursuing what you really want to do because the unemployment rate is so high, that is your business. And probably not a very fun business at that.

Or, who’s business is it that your boss doesn’t give positive feedback very often? Does it affect you? Of course. But can you really do anything to change your boss? Does criticizing, disliking, or getting frustrated by your boss’s insensitivity make it better? Then you know you’re not focused on “your business.”

That’s the magic of it – if you have a tight feeling in your stomach and it seems like there’s no way out, you can be 99% sure that you’re not focused on your own business. And refocusing on what your part really is and what you can do will greatly lighten your load, and make you that much more effective.

Spend a few minutes looking at the belief that gives you a knot in your tummy, and ask yourself the snotty question – who’s business am I in, anyway? It might be just the ticket.

Ps. I do recommend Byron Katie’s process for getting clear about the business you’re in.  Check out her book Loving What Is: Four Questions that can Change Your Life.

The difference between Heaven & Hell

Over the weekend, I (mostly) recovered from another bout of overwhelm. Sometimes I feel like a ping-pong ball, bouncing from too-much to not-enough. Whether its work, social engagements, or connecting with family, feast or famine seems to be the rule. Can you relate?

Faced with the prospect of another very busy week, as I wrote in my journal on Saturday, I found myself wondering “what makes it worth it?” What makes keeping my “skin in the game” worthwhile, through the overwhelm? The answer, I think, is each other.

I remembered a parable about the difference between Heaven and Hell. In both Heaven and Hell, people sit around a huge table laden with the most delicious food and drink imaginable. In both places, no-one has elbows. In Hell, people sit at the table, weak with hunger, unable to eat because they can’t bring food their mouths. In Heaven, people feed each other, reaching across the table with their long arms.

Then last night I had the good fortune to be attend the lovely Janet Boguch’s birthday party. She treated her friends to a yoga class, during which the instructor read a Rumi poem. The essence of the poem was that reeds and rushes, by themselves, can get blown away by the wind. But woven together can make a lovely basket that can keep food dry and even shelter a baby.

So this week, if (really, when) I find myself feeling like that ping pong ball again, I’ll remember – I’m one reed among many, woven into a fine basket. I’ll visualize putting my tired little ping pong ball in that basket. Sometimes mixing metaphors is a good thing. 🙂

Your greatest asset: the power to inspire

I’ve been talking to colleagues lately about the “trance of scarcity” we sometimes see in the social sector. You know, when you’re at an event and people start complaining about there not being enough money, time, political capital, and on and on until you wonder why they go to work in the morning.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t lack sympathy for the constraints nonprofits face. In fact, I probably would get a lot less work were it not for the challenges of fundraising, attracting and retaining skilled staff, staying focused on mission, etc. And when your mission is to solve a seemingly intractable problem like homelessness or global warming or child abuse, its tough not to get pessimistic.

In Good to Great and the Social Sectors, Jim Collins says that one of the greatest resources in the social sector is the ability to offer people a sense of meaning and connection. When we lament about what there’s not enough of, we’re not just bumming ourselves out – we’re depriving potential donors, volunteers and other supporters of the opportunity to join us in making a difference.

So, I would posit that not only is it a heck of a lot more fun, as a leader with a mission its actually your responsibility to stay inspired and inspiring.

Some quick tips to get your perspective back:

  • Focus on three things you are grateful for. Picture a volunteer, co-worker or donor you really appreciate, for example, and really let yourself feel how gratitude can expand your sense of what’s possible.
  • Take a break! A real break – go away for the weekend, or better yet two or three weeks to somewhere beautiful with lots of trees, water and/or mountains. Shouldn’t be too hard in the pacific NW, and doesn’t have to be expensive either.
  • Ask a friend or colleague to remind you of what you have accomplished. I bet there’s a long list, and that you’ve achieved these feats despite the same odds that now have you trembling in that scarcity trance.

Feel better? I thought you would. And I bet you’ll find it a lot easier to tackle that enormous to-do list now, too!