“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” Zechariah 4:10a, NLT.
Have you had this thought before, “By this time, I thought I’d be further along?” I do. And it comes this time of year, at the close of the year. But as I become older, I do a lot more self-reflecting than I did as a younger man. I also understand myself better and I also have come to realize the difference between what is most important and what is just the pressure of the urgent.
I’m an optimist and my direction of orientation is forward; always been that way. Personality wise, on the DISC inventory I’m an “I” with a close “D”. I don’t even register in the “C” category! On the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) I come out as an ENFJ. On the Enneagram, I identify with the type 7, Social subtype. On the StrengthsFinder 2.0, my top 5 in descending order are Strategic, Input, Belief, Achiever and Maximizer. I could go on and on with assessments, but you’re not that interested in me. To be honest, I’m not either. Assessments don’t take you where you want to go, but they can help you understand where you are.
By lamenting on not being as far along as I'd like, I’m not speaking in terms of physical distance, but in metaphor for life. For me, I’m disappointed that I’m not further along in my Christ-like character traits. I’m impatient, moody, over-indulgent, selfish, anxious, and inconsistent. That’s just what came to mind in a nanosecond. I got some work to do!
There are different categories of “wanting to be further along” than we are now. Perhaps for you, thinking you would be further along by now, means that you’d be married, or remarried. Perhaps it has to do with other aspects and dimensions of your relationships. Your desire to be "further along” could relate to career goals, physical and health desires. I shouldn’t even have to mention this, but money. Maybe you thought you’d have more of it, or to be able to spend less of it. Personal growth, mental health and resilience are important and more so this time of year. Bottom line, we just all want to be happy. We thought we’d be happier than we are now.
So, what do we do? Complain? Give-up? Blame God and creation? We may for a minute, but then we need to take responsibility and decide: Do I want to change you fill in the blank? This is the first choice and no one else can make for you. You must decide for yourself. It’s obvious to you and to others that there needs to be a change, but that is not the question. The question is, “Do you want to change?”
Some people get comfortable in their disappointment. They believe that they deserve it. They think that if they try to improve, they will just fail. Someone once said that you only fail when you cease to try. Failure is never final until you give up.
Here’s what I’m offering. I’ll give you a tried-and-true way to get further along in one area of your life in 2023. You pick the area and work the seven-step plan and by this time next year you will look back with satisfaction and can celebrate.
Before we look at the steps and the short description of each, (not complete but enough to get the idea of it) I want to make a few suggestions. First, just read over the seven steps and their descriptions. Don’t try to “do” them but get familiar with them.
Second, when you are ready to start working on the steps, I suggest you find a place where you will not be disturbed or distracted.
Third, give yourself some time. Work in 45-minute intervals. Take a break, like for a few hours or a day and then come back and work on it again. Don’t think you have to do it all in one sitting.
Fourth, review and make changes. This is a working document that can be revised. Just speaking of myself, I tend to set too high a goal and take on too much. It is a good thing when you make a more realistic target for yourself.
Fifth, remember, whatever targets you set for yourself and even if you don’t meet them, you are making progress, nonetheless. That is what's important. That's worth celebrating.
Sixth, be thinking about one to three people you could share this. Pick people who are supportive of you but will also speak the truth to you. If you’re desire for success in this is strong and you don’t feel like you can confide in any of the people you know yet, you may want to hire a coach for a few sessions, or at least one. You will be amazed at how a trained coach can help you navigate the issues in even one session.
Ready? Let’s go over the seven steps for where you want to be in 2023.
STEP ONE: IDENTIFY YOUR TARGETED AREA OF GROWTH
What one specific thing do you want to change about your life? Perhaps you have one already in mind. Write it down. You need to name it. It needs to be written in such a way that you will know when you have reached it or when you have not. The more specific the better.
To help with this, I’ve provided an excellent resource below on “Recovery, Wellness and Building Resilience". It lists eight different categories of life. It is like my Wheel of Life that is used in coaching. You may recognize one area that you want to focus on, and then you can name something specific in your life that corresponds to it.
STEP TWO: KNOW AND ACCEPT THE REALITY OF WHERE YOU ARE NOW
The first time my family and I went to the Mall of Georgia, we were looking for the Shoe Department shoe store. Sure enough, when we looked at the mall directory, the store was listed as being on the second floor near the east end. Problem was, we needed to know where we were to get to where we wanted to be. Fortunately for us, there was a red dot on the mall directory that read, “You are here.” Now that we knew where we were, we could get to the store we wanted. Same is true with your targeted desire.
Many don’t know themselves and are even less aware of how they come across to other people. Self-knowledge and self-awareness are the first place to begin. The reformed theologian John Calvin even wrote in the very beginning of his Institutes of the Christian Religion: “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.” Wisdom in life is tied to knowing God and knowing self. We should be students of both.
One of the best ways to know more of self is to develop an understanding of emotional intelligence. This will apply to all areas of life, not just what you have chosen to work on. One of the best tools I know of for self-discovery is the Enneagram. I have been so impressed with its potential for personal discovery and growth that I became a certified practitioner, working with individuals, church staff, and non-profit boards of directors.
Doing a 360 Degree Assessment is another consideration to discover how other people perceive your behavior and attitudes. This assessment is sent out to between 15 and 25 people in your social circle for them to answer questions about you anonymously!
The bottom line is not what resources you use, but that you come to a true knowledge of your own strengths, weaknesses, blind-spots, and tendencies. A true self-understanding of how you show up in the world will help you in all your growth areas, not just this one.
STEP THREE: DESCRIBE IN REALISTIC TERMS WHERE YOU WANT TO BE IN THIS ONE DESIRE BY END OF 2023
In the previous step I wrote about going to the Mall of Georgia. We didn't just want to go to the mall, we wanted to go to a particular store in the mall. Therefore, we knew when we made it. If we had just said we wanted to go to the mall, then any store or none would do. We’d just be killing time.
For you, what will it look like to make this goal? What you will feel? What will others see if you make this goal? Be tangible in your description. It could be a few sentences, or it could be several paragraphs.
STEP FOUR: LIST YOUR TOP FOUR TO SEVEN CHALLENGES TO ACHIEVING THIS DESIRE
You will need to be aware that anything worth doing is going to cost. It will take effort and tenacity. To prepare yourself for possible setbacks and problems answer these questions: What are the issues surrounding this? What are the challenges that need to be addressed? What am I afraid of? What do I stand to lose? What do I stand to lose if I don’t do this? What is my self-talk saying? Is my self-talk true? What is true? Who and what should I be listening to?
STEP FIVE: DISCERN THE LEADING OF GOD IN THIS
The question for your life is not: “Is God at work?” God is always at work in your life. The question is: “What is God at work doing and will I join him?” Some questions to ask yourself may be: What do you feel God is seeking to do in your life through this? What values is God working in you and bringing out? What areas of wounding or struggle might God be touching? Who do you have praying with you about this? What could Scripture say about this? What wisdom might other trusted sources have on this?
STEP SIX: PLAN YOUR STEPS THAT WILL LEAD YOU TO THIS ONE DESIRE
You don’t need to make a lot of steps. These steps that you plan don’t have to be big, they can be small or even “baby steps” like Dr. Marvin gave the character played by Bill Murray in the movie “What About Bob.” But these steps need to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. See the image below for more direction on this.
After you write down your steps and have made sure they are SMART. Then share them with someone you trust who will give you honest but caring feedback. Consider their feedback and make any adjustments you deem prudent.
STEP SEVEN: TAKE THE NEXT STEP
A Chinese proverb stated it this way, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Take the step. Make the leap. In reality, you have already begun. You have thought through. You have struggled. You have prayed and debated the issues and challenges. Now you have come to the point of implementing your new future. Is there anything left undone?
Share these steps with someone who will help you to be accountable to your own goals. You need a tribe: Your church, small group, friends, family, or coworkers, etc. You may want to involve a coach here as well.
There will always be new issues and challenges that will come up, but having worked through these steps, you at the place where you can go ahead. Today is the day! We can hardly wait to see what you will be in 2023.