On Dealing with Haters & Calling It a Comeback

Over the last couple months I’ve been all over the map. I went back to Fargo to be ordained — which was awesome. I went to Denver for a conference with some fellow pastors, which was a great time. Apart from the physical map, I’ve been all over the map in many other [more metaphorical] ways.

I have grown increasingly aware at how easy it has become to be a hater in an ever-growing digital world. People can spew venom and hate with surprising efficiency and with very little consequences, other than perhaps other people sending more hate back to them. In the past few weeks, I’ve started to see myself growing more cynical and buying into the notion that the best way to survive is to simply disengage.

But I’m done with that. It sucks. And, more importantly, it helps no one.

I was reading a blog by Tim Ferriss that had 5 great ways on dealing with haters, both church and secular. [Sidenote: it sucks that there are church haters.] And I think that these are essential for getting past negativity and into a much better headspace. In this case, I’m certain that these are just as much help to me as I hope they are to you.

1. It doesn’t matter how many people don’t get it. What matters is how many people do.

This is something I have to tell myself often. I also think this has some biblical basis as well. Only a few people really understood what Jesus was talking about or its meaning, and really the only did in light of his death. I think of this in terms of taking a different approach to a more “traditional”* way of doing things. In any new venture, the most important thing in dealing with haters, is not to focus on how many people are trying to detract from you, but to really focus on the people who see your vision and are enthusiastic about the future.

2. 10% of people will find a way to take anything personally. Expect it.

Ferriss says that “People are least productive in reactive mode,” And the church spends an awful lot of time in the reactive mode. This only multiplies the problem. You can’t respond to all criticism. And when you find this 10%, you’ll simultaneously realize that the bulk of their criticism doesn’t necessarily merit a response.

3. “Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity.” (Colin Powell)

It’s important to be tactical about how and when you respond to haters. Chip and Dan Heath in their book Switch talk about “bright spots”. These are certain people or groups that are doing good work toward which people are naturally gravitating. Rather than constantly trying to solve problems or get people who are always fighting you to like you, go toward the bright spot. Once you find this bright spot, try to see what makes it bright, and then clone it. Look at some of your church’s most successful programs. Why are they successful? What can you do to make that enthusiasm contagious into other ministries? It’s the same kind of thing with dealing with haters. Trying to please everyone or get everyone to like you will not allow you to focus as much attention on the bright spots.

4. “If you are really effective at what you do, 95% of the things said about you will be negative.” (Scott Boras)

And Scott Boras would know. The guy has more negative things said about him than almost anyone. But it speaks to a larger kind of ambition. When you introduce a big project, or an overhaul of an existing project, people will naturally be skeptical. They’ll say negative things about you to re-inforce the status quo. The bigger your impact and the larger the ambition and scale of your project, the more negativity you’ll encounter. It can be a hard thing to take, but the more heat you get, the more you’re onto something.

5. Keep calm and carry on.

This slogan has become a meme as of late, but it was originally produced by the British during World War II as a propaganda message to comfort people in the face the threat of Nazi invasion. The thing I like about Tim’s take on this is that he makes it clear. “Focus on impact, not approval.” It goes along with the previous 4. People will attack you. The important thing is what you do in the face of the attack. Keep calm and carry on.

That’s what I’ve learned and take forward from my time of succumbing to the cynicism that can [but doesn’t have to] go alongside dealing with haters. Now I just need to spend more time listening to these myself.

What kind of things do you do to deal with haters? What has worked? What hasn’t? Feel free to share some stories or tips of your own in the comments section below.

It’s good to be back.

Cheers,
Eric

* = I think the accepted definition of “tradition” actually borders more correctly on “nostalgia”. But I’ll write more about that later this week.

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The One Where I Stress the Importance of Sabbath

What is without periods of rest will not endure.” – Ovid

I’ll be the first to hop on board and tell you that I suck at Sabbath. Sure, I mean, I’m good at occasionally not accomplishing anything for a period of time. I’m great at neglecting some work to catch up on Breaking Bad or surf around my Google reader. But I’m not sure I could tell you the last time I took an intentional retreat time away from work and just focused on being.

One of the most commonly used words around our house is “screen time”. Almost always used in the context of “Wow, I’ve had way too much screen time today.” Or we’re asking if we have any ibuprofen because our head hurts from the close proximity of a bright screen.

Sound familiar?

In this month’s Atlantic, the cover story is a great write-up on the work/family balance that haunt a lot of career women. The writer talked about how she yearned for a time away from her work — whether in law firms, the Pentagon, or Academia. But even when she took this family time, her family was still running ragged.

I wonder what it would look like if we took time to be with ourselves. Granted, as an introvert, this is a particularly appealing notion to me. But when we break down the notion of Sabbath early on in Genesis, what is it? God spent six days intensely working to create, and then the Sabbath was initiated as a way of resting in creation.

Not only is Sabbath about rest, but it’s about keeping a finger on the rhythm of our lives.

It’s about settling down into an awareness of who we are, why we’re here, and ultimately gets us in tune with the very essence of our nature as human beings. It’s not just about time off, vacation, or not doing any work. It’s about resting. It’s about taking care of ourselves in meaningful ways.

But I’d like to take it a step further, particularly in our connected, technological age. I think today’s equivalent of the Jewish Sabbath would be Sabbaths from technology. I need this encouragement as much as anyone else.

Take a day — one full day — and set it aside as a time to rest, read, spend time with family and friends, drink wine. But with this one caveat. Try for a full day with as little screen time as possible. 

I’m embarking on a vacation back to the Midwest (as I type this, I’m just over 33,000 feet in the air probably somewhere above Utah). One of the primary things I’m planning on doing during this vacation is greatly reducing my amount of screen time. Even though in my carry-on I currently have an iPod, an iPhone, an iPad, and my Macbook. (It’s actually kind of sad when you list them all out like that)

But for a bulk of my trip, I’m going to cut down as much as I can. But we were not created to worry about our Klout score. I have some posts ready to go and I’ll be checking in periodically, but if you don’t hear from me, just picture me in a hammock by a lake. You might not be too far off.

I hope that if you need a Sabbath — even if just for 30 minutes — you’ll treat yourself to some rest. We work hard. We deserve a break every once in awhile. And don’t worry. The internet will be here when you get back.

Cheers,
Eric

Music to Get Through a Bad Week

It’s been a long week. I haven’t slept much. My mind has been racing on a lot of different tracks. I’ve felt discouraged, beat down, unworthy, unable, and in most ways just pretty crappy. Some things I had hoped would turn out one way didn’t. Some things I hoped would go well went pretty terribly.

Anybody else with me? Do you ever have weeks like this?

Whenever I have weeks like this, I often turn to music. It’s fairly effective in two things. Music either 1) shifts my perspective to focus on more positive things or 2) gives me a 35,000 foot view of my life to realize this isn’t the end of the world.

This song has really helped me out a lot this week. It’s a fairly old song (old like 2005 or so). But I’ll post the song and then the lyrics underneath. I hope if you’ve had a week like me, this song helps.

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Pull the hair back from your eyes 
Let the people see your pretty face
Try not to say anything weird

Save your questions without answers
‘Til your old enough to know that things ain’t as they appear

Before you go out in the sun
Cover your skin and don’t get burned
Beware the cancer, it might kill you when you’re old

Be first in line, raise your hand
Remember everything you hear
And playing in the rain is worth catching cold

Sooner or later
We’ll be lookin’ back on everything
And we’ll laugh about it like we knew what all was happening
And someday you might listen to what people have to say
Now you learn the hard way

We only want what’s best for you
That’s why we tell you what to do
And nevermind if nothing makes sense

‘Cause it all works out in the end
You’re just like us without a friend
But you can build a privacy fence

Sooner or later
We’ll be lookin’ back on everything
And we’ll laugh about it like we knew what all was happening
And someday you might listen to what people have to say
Now you learn the hard way

Some things you have to learn them all on your own
You can’t rely on anybody else
Or the point of view of a source unknown
If it feels good and sounds nice
Then it’s your choice, don’t doubt yourself
Don’t even think twice

Pull the hair back from your eyes
Let the people see your pretty face
You know they like it when you smile
Find a reason to smile

Try not to focus on yourself
Share that love with someone else
Don’t let the bitters bring you down
Don’t let anything bring you down

Sooner or later
We’ll be lookin’ back on everything
And we’ll laugh about it like we knew what all was happening
And someday you might listen to what people have to say
Now you learn the hard way

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I hope you enjoyed that song as much as I do. And I hope it helps shift your perspective a little. I know it does that for me.

What songs help you get through bad weeks or give you encouragement? Leave them in the comments if you have any.

Cheers,
Eric

Living the Questions: Where Are You?

Don’t search for answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

This is the first post in the “Living the Questions” series. These are some reflections on the first 5 questions that God asks in the book of Genesis. For the first question, we turn back to Genesis 3: “The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But God called to them, and said, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:8-9)

When I was doing my chaplaincy internship at Good Samaritan in Minneapolis, we had a particularly intense time for our group where we’d work through a lot of our emotional past and talk about things that are extremely difficult to talk about. As an introvert, the beginnings of this exercise were a certain form of Hell. Every afternoon would start out with my supervisor going around the room and checking in. She’d come around to me and ask “Where’s Eric today?”

This was a question of location, though not geographical. A lot of times we think the question of “where” is simply a question of physical placement. But, like Adam and Eve, we often hide ourselves. We don’t want to be found out, exposed, embarrassed, or discovered. So we hide. And when we hide, it can be awful hard to establish exactly where we are.

So where am I right now?

Tough to say. One of the frustrating parts of seminary, is that it prepares you to be leaders of the “church of tomorrow”. But then we are sent out into the church of today. Things that we talked about in seminary simply aren’t factors in the parish — at least in mine. Even something as foundational as biblical interpretation isn’t discussed because the assumption is that we all read the Bible the same — after all, we are Christians, aren’t we? (that last bit should be read with mild sarcasm).

Also, when you’re in school preparing to be a pastor, no one tells you how absolutely lonely it is. It has been a really lonely first year in the parish. This is speaking as a newlywed and so I can only assume that being a single person in ministry can be just as difficult, if not more so. It’s terribly lonely.

So if I’m living this question of “Where am I?”, it’s a little depressing to analyze it. Sent out to a brand new place where we know next to no one, to lead the church of today after spending 3 years (and how much money?) learning how to lead the church of tomorrow.

BUT

In all of this, I have to remember who is asking the question and who is doing the seeking. When we don’t know where we are, when we may be more lost than found, there is One who refuses to let us stay lost. We have to trust, no matter what vocation you are currently serving — whether you’re a teacher, banker, or candlestick maker — there is a spirit that quiets our unease. Our discontent won’t stop tomorrow. But like the poet, Rilke, says, the point is to live the questions, not answer them.

Cheers,
Eric

How to Water A Creative Drought

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things” – Ray Bradbury

I can’t quite tell if it’s the warming of the weather, the time of the year, or something completely different, but I’ve had a really hard time being creative lately. The last few weeks have been full of false starts and frustrated crumpling of paper. Even my sermons these past few weeks have been nothing to write home about. It can get really discouraging. Part of being creative is experiencing the dry spells. They can be frequent and are always unwelcome, but they can also be beneficial in allowing us to re-focus.

Here are 5 things that can really help push through a creative drought.

1. Walk away – Step away from the computer, canvas, typewriter, piano, or whatever your creative medium is. If you’re spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere, walk away. Go do something else. Even if you’re on strict deadline, a 10 minute walk can clear your head and give you a fresh set of eyes to approach the task at hand.

2. Switch the routine – One of the things that was catching me up was I was trying to be creative in the afternoon. I would get my work done at the office in the morning and then come home and try to be creative. That was my routine and it was driving me into the ground. We’re all at our best in different parts of the day. For me, it’s mornings. So I’m trying something new: getting up early (before I go to work — novel idea, I know). I’ll let you know how it goes. Well… depending on how many posts come up in the next couple weeks, it’ll be fairly self-evident.

3. Change mediums – If you’re a writer, do something visual. Go visit an art museum. If you’re a painter, throw on some headphones and Coltrane and get lost. His album “A Love Supreme” is like seeing music in color. If you’re a musician, read some poetry — some Pablo Neruda or Adrienne Rich. Getting out of your familiar box can act as a reset button for your creativity. Plus it’s just fun.

4. Exercise – This goes along with the walking away. If you can walk, run, bike, or swim away, that’s all the better. When you get blood flowing and you get some new oxygen moving through your body, it is rejuvenating in a lot of ways — especially creativity. So if you have a creative block, get out and move a little.

5. Rest – Sometimes the best thing you can do for a creative block is to sleep. If you’re in creative work, odds are you don’t always get the sleep you need. So take a nap. Give yourself permission to go relax in a park. You can’t be on the go 24/7. There are some times when resting is just the best thing you can do.

What do you do to water your creative drought? What helps get your creative juices flowing? Leave a comment and let me know!

Cheers,
Eric

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