Friday, January 18, 2013

Being Your Numbers

I started my career in sales.  Some would say I have never left.  My first job at nine years old was shining shoes on a street corner in San Francisco.  I took my shoe shine kit and waited near the bus stop with a smile on my face.  The year was 1967 and I lived three blocks from the Haight Ashbury.  Not many people wore shoes and even fewer wanted a shine.  I soon discovered the only way I would get the candy bar or pack of baseball cards I hoped for at the end of the day, was to find another way to make money.  Fortunately the bar on the corner often had an after-school clientele that were happy to buy off this budding entrepreneur with a dime or a quarter.

Over the years I brought my skills for persuasion to many jobs.  I sold newspapers, I managed restaurants, I sold phones and DSL lines, I managed and trained sales people.  I spent two years studying  biology, economics, business, entrepreneurship, language and ethics so I could become a better sales professional.  I became a minister and have been selling transformation, hope and joy - on my best days - for the last decade.  I know the techniques, challenges and possibilities of sales.  And I know the joys and sorrows, hopes and doubts sales people live with every day.  Doubts that are not unique to sales people.

When you are in sales your financial well being, and your general mood, is frequently determined by how much you sell, how much you produce.  This is true in many parts of life.  One day, years ago, a mentor of mine, after hearing my angst and frustration, said "Ah, you're being your numbers."  Being your numbers.  How often do we let the production and activity of our life determine how well we feel about ourselves and our world.  When I was in sales I often battled the sense that how well I was doing was based on how many phones, newspapers, hamburgers I sold.  Over the years that battle has shifted to how many goals I achieve, how many people came to church on Sunday or how many people read this blog or how often I write it.  To name just a few.

I'm not sure who first said it but I first heard it from a minister almost thirty years ago.  "We are human beings, not human doings."  As someone who has been accused of being "Type A" over the years those words were a bit of a jolt.  As were "ah, you're being your numbers."  We are human beings and not human doings.  How well we nurture and affirm our beings might even affect our doings.  One of the invitations Steve Jobs and St. Francis, Silicon Valley and Assisi, calltrepreneurship offers us is the opportunity to be and do.  Meditation, prayer and time in nature help with the being, reminding us that we are connected to something deeper than our latest quarterly report.  Tapping into our creativity, connecting and working with others, serving something larger than ourselves helps with the doing, reminding us that the how is more important than the how many.

I have learned over the years a lesson that I can still forget.  I am more than my numbers.   Whether those numbers are how much I am - or am not - selling, how much I am - or am not - writing, how much  I am - or am not - producing, or how much love I am - or am not - remembering I have.  The danger in being our numbers is that our sense of joy, self-worth, our very being -  is based on something or someone outside of ourselves.  It's okay to like numbers, to enjoy the feeling that getting something done, and done well, gives us.  But when the doing becomes more important than the being we can get in trouble.   Be first.  Do next.  Easy to say, not so easy to live.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Anything But Grace

"This is the time/For you to deeply compute the impossibility/That there is anything/But Grace." -- Hafiz

On the first day of winter I wrote about waiting for test results to determine if my wife Kathleen's cancer had returned.  Our great Christmas present was to hear the news that, while she has advancing arthritis and a degenerative disc in her back, her cancer seems to still be in remission.  After we celebrated this wonderful news, I proceeded to be sick for the next ten days.  Nothing major except for the type of cold and cough that makes it hard to climb out of bed and do anything but sleep.  My apologies for not posting this good news sooner to let those who have been worried, wondering how our candle was burning.

The possibility of having a terminal diagnosis in one's life is one of the most profound and scariest teachers I have ever met.  It is a teacher that we all will learn from at some time in our life.  A teacher that we may try to run and hide from at times, especially when the lessons' subjects are people we love, including ourselves.  I am always surprised how powerful death's lessons, real and feared, can be and how easy they are to forget...until they come around again.

Two lessons have stuck with me this time.  Perhaps writing them down will help me remember them when death hides in a corner of my life and I forget how present it always is.  The first lesson/reminder is how overwhelming it can feel to be loved.   When we let people know what is happening in our lives, especially when our news is scary and involves pain and sorrow, they react as we react for them sending love and prayers and good wishes.   Thanks to the modern communities of social media the love and care is greater than ever possible. Being on the receiving end of this energy is both nurturing and humbling.  Kathleen and I felt this energy and love as we have before.  It is profound and it makes a difference.  We are deeply grateful for this love and at the same time I always feel blown away by its intensity.  Who am I to deserve such attention and care?

Which leads me to lesson two.  That there is, or could ever be, anything but grace.  We have nothing to do with being given this great gift of life.  We can be grateful for it, we can celebrate it, we can love it with all of our hearts and yet we know that we had nothing to do with it.  In the last two weeks millions of people around the world waited for test results in hospital rooms and doctors' offices just like we did.  They received just as much love, care and prayer as we did.  But the results from those tests led to tears and sorrow instead of joy and dancing.  Life, death, joy, sorrow...grace.

I keep the Sufi poet Hafiz's book, The Gift, on my desk/altar where I can frequently open it up and remember the joy, sorrow, love and grace that is life.    He writes, "This is the time/For you to deeply compute the impossibility/That there is anything/But Grace.  Now is the season to know/That everything you do/Is sacred."  And so it is.