Learning to say I have enough

About a month ago an old acquaintance sat down with me and asked what I was doing.

Coaching full time, I said.

How many clients do you have?

Not enough, I replied, feeling like Eeyore again.

Five minutes later, I turned to him and apologized. I’m sorry, that’s a really negative way to look at it. God is providing what I need, when I need it.

I have enough. And I always want more!

Now, “I want more” still sounds like I’m discontented, but that’s not the attitude the statement carries in my mind.

“I want more” not because I’m greedy for the money that a fuller coaching load would bring. It’s because I have time to spare, and there are lots of people to care for. out there I want more, because I have so much more to give.

The Tao Teh Ching says “He who knows when he has enough is rich.”

Most of the people who can read this blog are rich. You have enough.

This change in attitude has been really helpful for my sense of internal peace. Coincidentally (?) within two or three weeks of that penitent moment, I landed several new clients.

Counterfeits

One way to look at authenticity is to examine what it is not.

In any sort of currency there is a potential for counterfeit. Something that looks like the real deal, but isn’t.

If you get a huge flood of counterfeit, then, society has two choices. First is to accept the counterfeit as indistinguishable and therefore equal to the authentic, so that it becomes immaterial. The second reaction is to become suspicious of all currency, meaning that not only do you not trust counterfeits but you also become wary of the authentic.

Counterfeits are wolves in sheepskins. Either way you react, they damage the authentic.

There are counterfeits in terms of more things than monetary systems.

Think about counterfeit love. (love on the internet)

Think about counterfeit community. (community on the internet)

I’m not indicting the internet on purpose. The results speak for themselves. The internet has some great means of sharing love and building community. More often than not, it’s used for counterfeit expressions.

Think about how counterfeit churches, false prophets, and other theological misrepresentations damage the authentic expression of a loving community. Jesus knew his own words would be twisted.

You have to be a judicious reader. You have to consume information intelligently. You have to look for underlying principles: are they real?

In today’s world there are more counterfeits than authentic connections. Scams-a-million.

How are you finding real gold? Where’s the silver you’re after? Is it real?

Are you Gucci?

I have a recent customer who’s hired me several times. This young lady calls me “Gucci.”

Did you know Gucci was back? Did you know that means I’m high class? (I had to ask. Wasn’t sure if I was being insulted or not.)

It’s funny because I associate it with knockoff handbags made in sweatshops sold by people (usually immigrants who can’t get other work) who lay them out on blankets at the beaches in foreign tourist destinations. Malaga, Spain, comes to mind. Not high class at all. Cheap imitations. I spend more time in those kinds of places than on Fifth Avenue.

Be the real deal. Be yourself, not an imitation of somebody else. Otherwise you give everybody a black eye: both yourself and the famous guy. Let other people compare your work to the big names, but only because you have unique class, not because you ripped off their brand.

Questioning Authority

Here’s a question my brother Aaron asked via social media today.

“I’d suggest that rather than questioning authority we might do better to think about authority. Where does it come from? What is it for? Do you know anyone who wields it productively? What are the limits of obedience to authority? Why? What is the difference between authority and power? But don’t take my word for it…ask a question of your own!”

Aaron, great job starting a discussion on a very interesting topic.

I called him and we talked about it together particularly in light of my March 15 blog titled Family Values in which, as I told Aaron, “I excommunicated roughly half of the North American church.”

“Really? You did?” He said. “Under what authority?”

“Are you questioning my authority?” I said.

“No, I’m just asking a question,” he said. Ha ha, we laughed.

I explained the core concept of the blog to Aaron in a little more depth and then posed the question back to him, “where do you think I got the authority?” To which he replied, “your authority came from a revelation from God.”

Well, that means it is prophecy. As I begin now to exercise a prophetic voice more often, I was asking myself these questions, too.

I’d like to start out the discussion by saying I’m not an expert on authority, but my basic observation is that authority, in general (I’m not talking about spiritual authority) comes in one of two basic ways: via a vetting process or via a personality cult. In the above conversation with Aaron, there’s a particular vetting happening when someone else verifies “your revelation came from God.” Vetting is a HUGE part of the process of becoming an authority on something.

Aaron said, “Well, all those vying for president right now haven’t been vetted,” and I said, “No, they don’t have any authority yet. Authority goes in stages, from one stage to the next you’re vetted. For example, Kasich has the authority of the Governor of Ohio, so hes asking us as a nation to vet him to the next level.”

For another example, my authority in the field of life coaching was vetted from a third-party perspective at CCNI and they decided that the quality of my work deserves the credential (authority) at the CPCC level. This was a more stringent vetting process than simply earning a certificate from a training school. It took me seven years to get from the certificate to the credential. The next credential (Master Coach) might take another 10 years.

The flip side of vetting is the WRONG way to get authority. These guys are the political demagogues and personality-driven church leaders. Typically (if they attain any amount of authority that puts them in the public eye) they have a certain and very rare personal charisma. They can stay small and out of the public eye, leading a group of just a few hundred people, and yet even then when their downfall comes about often times the leader of even a group of only a dozen will end up in the public eye as their abuses come to light. When the authority comes from personal charisma, nobody’s holding you accountable to integrity.

Think about how Donald Trump got where he is today, asking the country to vet him in the election process. What political authority has he had before? None. His vetting process up to this point has been based on a personality cult he’s carefully constructed with a great deal of personal charisma and it has no particular basis in terms of integrity; based on all that, he’s very close now to getting a nomination (which still isn’t the authority of the Presidency). Kasich is pretty disgusted with this whole thing; he’s the governor of Ohio, he’s the candidate on the GOP side who’s held the most authority in a position similar to President. Why isn’t he the obvious next candidate for authority on the GOP side? An entertainment-driven society has deceived people into thinking that personal charisma is a reasonable way to become authoritative.

You see the same thing with Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side. Like his message or not, it’s been the same for 30 years and that means he’s speaking with integrity. When Hillary Clinton says “Where was he in 1993?” His campaign retorts “He was literally right behind you.” Clinton doesn’t look good when she tries attacking Sanders on issues of integrity. Let’s leave politics behind. I’m not an authority on politics. Ha ha.

What is the key characteristic that typically motivates those in authority over others to vet them up to the same level? I submit that it’s integrity. Promises fulfilled. When you’re given a certain level of authority and you fulfill your commitments and live a life of quiet integrity, people see there’s authority in that and they elevate you to the next level.

In a sense, it’s not terribly different from power, in the sense that Margaret Thatcher famously said, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell someone that you are, you probably aren’t.” But there are differences, too.

So, where your authority comes from is not how you lead into a discussion. You state what you have to say. Jesus did this. “He spoke as one with authority.” Then, if people ask “where did you get your authority” (and they will) you can tell them. I don’t start a coaching pitch by saying, “I’ve got a CPCC with CCNI” partly because people are going to say “so what” (not because CCNI isn’t an authoritative body, but because they may not have ever heard of it). That won’t work partly because that’s a weak opening statement compared with, say, for example, asking a great coaching question that shows I’m a lady … um, wait, I mean, shows I know what I’m doing as a coach. A powerful use of authority assumes you have it.

The thing about questioning authority, then, is really asking “Does this authority have the integrity needed to maintain their authority?” and sometimes the answer is NO!

Should we question authority? Sure, we should. Aaron did it to me. He said he wasn’t, but really in his question “what authority do you have to excommunicate half the church?” is implied that we need to know where the authority comes from, we want to know if you have the integrity to carry that authority, and we want to keep checking in on that from time to time.

A really good leader doesn’t need to be questioned too often. Follow 90% and question 10% seems to be a rule of thumb that comes to my head. The whole political discussion isn’t to pick sides here, it’s really to illustrate what needs to happen in our churches (that’s the realm I have a lot more authority to speak to) which is this: once we’ve decided to put someone in a position of authority, we need to follow them. We get to expect that they are accountable, and we do not have to be their accountability partner, coach or mentor or overseer. In fact, it is best if we are not functioning in that role if they are also our pastor.

Does that mean we should never question their decisions? Or their integrity? Or their authority? Of course not. But why would we put someone in a position of authority if we didn’t vet them for a measure of integrity in the first place?

 

 

Coaching and Politics on Super Tuesday

Back in 2009 as I was working my way through a professional life coaching course, I had a peer / colleague who sent me an email that was political in nature.

I realized right then that what we were learning about being life coaches was in conflict with the nature of making one’s political opinion known. Your opinion is exactly what you’re trained to keep out of the conversation. You don’t betray your opinion because it doesn’t matter. Your client’s agenda is king, and your agenda not only should remain hidden, but in fact, should not even exist.

It seemed to me that broadcasting one’s political opinion, even outside the confines of a professional relationship, was antithetical to the process of becoming a coach at heart. On a practical level, since our nation is so divided along party lines, making your personal opinions known will essentially alienate 48-52% of your prospective clients. On a deeper, almost spiritual level, becoming an “ear” means learning to silence your voice. Your job is to support the growth of others, but not to tell them which direction to grow in.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently been to Thailand where I began to rediscover my voice as a poet, and I recognize that the point of being a writer at all is to share opinions (in my case, that comes in a variety of forms from poetry to fiction to creative essay). Furthermore, my desire to exhort my friends to growth includes a general appeal to be well-read, to be erudite, to seek to understand the world about you via a variety of travel experiences whether they be through books or on a bicycle or airplane. Getting to a different time and place is crucial for gaining perspective, which is, in turn, crucial for growth. When I write, I hope that I invite people to find different perspectives, and when that happens, I invite them to use their own ears.

I am writing this on “Super Tuesday” and by the time I’ve saved this overnight I expect to find that Donald Trump is most likely going to be the Republican candidate for the Presidency. I would prefer not to say which of the other four major candidates remaining (alphabetically, Clinton, Cruz, Rubio, and Sanders) I am promoting, but I do say this:

We need to start looking past Donald Trump. He’s so good at holding the spotlight we think that if and when he goes away, it will be over. But Donald Trump represents a natural disaster which has already struck our shores and ripped its way from atop the purple mountains’ majesty and across the fruited plain. His demagogy is detrimental not only to how we will see ourselves in the future, but how the world will see us too– even if he isn’t ultimately elected! Demagogy means that he stirs people up by playing on their emotions and prejudices to win them over quickly and gain power. He is the living definition of this word! Another word that reflects the behavior we’ve seen at his rallies is mob-fascism. We should be very concerned that fascism in some form is on the rise. It will not end with Trump, whether he is elected or not. There are people who are hungry for the controlled environment that comes with fascism, and there are apparently a lot of them. Donald Trump doesn’t seem smart enough to create this wave; but he sure knows how to surf it. He will mock anyone and everyone for a laugh, and that is how it starts. Incidentally I have seen many conservatives point out that programs like SNL, which were very edgy in the 1970s as they poked fun at homosexuality, also paved the way for gay marriage. Making fun of things is the first step to making them okay.

Trump is making it okay to beat people up and throw them in the street without their coats, and that is what the fascist mob is hungry for.

Now, I’m not saying Trump is a Nazi, because he’s not. But I would like to point out that the World War II Axis Powers included Mussolini’s fascist Italy and Hitler’s Nazi Germany working together. Trump working with Putin, for example, would be a pretty bad deal for the world. And we know they are mutual admirers.

The fires of fascism were already in Smaug’s belly here in the United States, rumbling about inside a sleeping beast, hibernating during the winter of anti-intellectualism. Trump, in his craving for popularity, perhaps silly as a dwarf whose eyes are only on the gold, has aroused that dragon. Sooner or later, we’re going to get burned. Trump may lose to Clinton or Sanders (I daresay he will, though he’s defied every pundit who says surely he can’t continue to rise). But for the people, this desire for the fascism-sponsored cotton candy sugar rush of self-righteousness multiplied by fear that he offers as flippantly as he tosses the coif on his head, no, this is not going to go away. Within another four to eight years, another demagogue may rise on Trump’s shoulders and take this country into some truly dangerous places, and growth, as sponsored by erudition, will have to hide behind multiple levels of false identities on the internet as though it were the worst kind of explicit and graphic images.

Mockers ultimately do not like to be mocked, nor do demagogues, no more than terrorists do. We saw what happened at Charlie Hebdo. Can we imagine that a party here might eventually be serious and dangerous enough to go after a Late Show host? You’d better believe it can happen.

Growth promoters will not be able to call themselves things like “Adam G. Fleming.” Am I speaking doomsday? Not entirely. Will all be well if Trump loses the presidency? No, it will not. Smaug is awake, and he is not happy. He will feed. The danger is not Trump, it is the wave he’s surfing, a wave that’s getting bigger, not fading. The real danger is in thinking that Trump is the wave (just because we think the hair he sports is the biggest wave we’ve ever seen). With or without Trump the wave is going to cascade across our beaches and suck some part of us out to sea, probably a very innocent and beautiful part of us, probably that part that makes people around the world say to each other “I’d move there in a heartbeat.”

“Oh, wait, Adam, are you saying we should be afraid? Then you’re a demagogue yourself.”

I am not saying we should be afraid. I am saying we should practice erudition. We should read, we should have our eyes and ears open, we should see what is coming, and we should even be willing, if we would love our enemies and lay down our lives for our friends, to get out of the way when the mob mentality comes rolling. We should stand up and call the dragon by name, because otherwise people might just think it’s a friendly little earthquake which will pass and not something with jaws that’s on a warpath. I’ve often been curious what made the difference between Jews who left Germany in the early 1930s and those who stayed until it was too late. I think there are a lot of factors and it’s probably impossible to narrow it down to one thing, and it’s not pleasant to say “they didn’t see this coming” because it sounds like blaming the victim. But if some really deep crap is coming down the pike, I don’t want to be the one who says “I’ve invested too much here to leave” and put my children in harm’s way. I won’t be a victim. When people say they “would move away” and we don’t take them seriously, we’ve forgotten that at almost all times, there is some place in the world where they are moving away. Usually those refugees are leaving well after the time when it might have been expedient. If I’m going to leave, I’d like to think I’ll do it before it becomes so difficult.

This is why I feel it’s worth standing up and making a political statement, even though I’m a coach who isn’t supposed to have an agenda: it’s because I do have an agenda, the coach really does always have an agenda, the coach always has had an agenda, and that agenda is authenticity and growth. I hope for an America unafraid of growth and the unpleasant changes that come with it, not for a mockery of what makes America great, the plastic masquerade of success and righteousness as a glossy film over the ugly head of control and fascism.

Intentional Community 2

I was raised in Intentional Community (capitals on purpose). What some might consider a cult or commune was really a group of people considering carefully how to live together. In our case, the Intentional Community was called Plow Creek Fellowship. It was a Christian church (Plow Creek Church) and a communally owned, shared living environment of 150 acres or so, some farmland along the creek and some upon the bluffs, in the countryside of Bureau Co., Illinois (Plow Creek Farm) with six or seven houses (some of them housing multiple family units) on the farmland and several houses in the nearby village (Tiskilwa). Most of our communal life was lived on the farm property. We children attended public schools in Tiskilwa.

The impetus for this degree of intentionality at Plow Creek came from a study of the book The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, which talks about people sharing food and goods in common. People who joined Plow Creek did so with a great deal of deliberation on both the part of the existing community and the prospective members, because joining meant sharing money and property in a common purse. It meant, essentially, a commitment that felt lifelong, even though it turns out that was rarely the case. Many of the members, like my parents, came from the Jesus Freak movement of the 1960’s, they were hippies who didn’t smoke weed or wife-swap. Love was free, but there was no Free Love. Oh, and they were pacifists. Yeah… That was popular in rural Illinois. You bet.

I have seen people being intentional about what sort of community they engage in, and give their lives to, to an extreme degree. Once you joined, decisions were made by consensus (though I won’t say there wasn’t coercion from time to time).

Communes have fallen out of style– there are significant social problems within the system, not the last of which is the problem of slackers (once people have joined, you’ve got to feed them even if they don’t produce much, whether cash or crops, which is an economic drain on the system. You’ve voluntarily and permanently laid down the choice to give out of your own personal abundance and generosity, which is a good thing to do, until you don’t have any recourse not to do it). It’s hard to hold people accountable if you’ve got so much grace invested in the relationship that you can’t just, well, ex-communicate them. And if you’re not willing to end the relationship, you’re sort of stuck in an enabling vortex. Another problem is the relative isolation. It’s sort of what they wanted, but in rural Illinois, there weren’t many neighbors who could relate to the lifestyle and ideologies Plow Creekers espoused. Perhaps for another day: intentional communities: open or closed?

One thing I did learn is that if you want to be a leader who finishes well, you do need some sort of intentional community. You need commitment to a group of people who can hold you accountable, you need an out for extreme circumstances, and if you need to duck out for some reason then you need to get plugged back in right away somewhere else. The key is that you’re the one being intentional. Others will inevitably not be as committed to you as you are to the concept, if you’re truly embracing it.

We see this now in the coaching world. Those who want authentic community and are willing to be intentional about it will sign a coaching agreement, with regular check ins not only for their own growth but for the progress of the relationship with the coach as well. This can be done with a peer coach (taking turns) or a professional coach, a mentor or “Paul” and a downward mentor or “Timothy” and with a variety of other people you commit to sharing your life with.

People are sometimes surprised to find that I have a coach too. (This probably stems from the misunderstanding people have that ‘life coaches have it all figured out and will tell you what to do with your life’ which couldn’t be further from what coaches really do.)

I work every month with Mark. Mark’s a professionally trained coach and we exchange peer coaching. I also have another friend named Mark who isn’t a coach at all, but we’re best buddies and we’re intentional about talking about the temptations we face. I have another friend named Jonathan who meets with Megan and I monthly to check in with us on our growth as artists, as a couple, and as people who are serious about community. We pay Jonathan. I meet with Ralph for discipleship (I’m the “Timothy”). I meet with K. C. twice a year for coaching supervision through an organization that I contract with. In total that’s five people, two of whom get paid for working with me and three who don’t. Two of them live in my town, one in another part of the state, and two in Colorado. It’s not unusual for me to have a meeting almost every week with at least one of them. This isn’t anything like Plow Creek, yet everything about it reflects how I grew up: you don’t float through life on your own. Not because you’re trying to be a slacker: in fact, precisely the opposite.

By the way, Megan and I attend church regularly. None of the people I mentioned attend the same congregation we do. It’s sort of ironic but right now I have a lot less formal, intentional relationships within my congregation. I also run a nonprofit and none of these coaches or mentors are on the board. But I’m intentional about communicating with both of those groups too: my pastors know what’s going on, and so does my board. The key is that in every area of your life; from your marriage and sexuality to your career and spiritual life; from the addictions you’re kicking to the dreams you’re pursuing, you’ve got somebody you check in with. That’s how we do intentional community. That’s the whole point of this series. There’s value here.

Intentional Community: Deep, Authentic Relationships

While talking to my friend Joe yesterday he asked me if I could help his organization out in helping people make intentional plans for growth in their organization. Joe’s firm helps nonprofits develop their own leadership from within. One executive he knew had recently been let go by the board, after six or seven years with the company. This executive had asked Joe on four separate occasions to come talk about helping them make a plan, but they never bought in. Now that Executive X is being let go, too late he realizes that an intentional plan would have been much better. The transition will be a lot more painful.

Intentional seems like a redundant word to me, and maybe it should be, but it’s not. Nothing really gets done without intentionality, unless you’re talking about haphazard accidents, and any of those that are good happen because you were intentionally working on something else! You don’t stumble upon the idea for Post-It Notes unless you’re working on new developments in glue.

The same thing goes with community. The first thing you have to recognize if you want to build a community with and for any purpose whatsoever, you’ll have to be intentional.

The law of entropy — I am not a thermodynamic physicist, so this is perhaps inaccurately summarized as the idea that things fall apart — creates the challenge that things in a closed system (like the universe in terms of thermodynamics or like your town or organization in terms of meaningful relationships) will require an influx energy on a consistent basis to make any relationship or group a cohesive one.

In other words, your intentionality is required to counter-act entropy in any community you care about.

The first thing Joe and I had to agree on was the fact that without intentionality, no organization can implement any plan, much less a plan that will develop future leadership potential.