Category Archives: Leadership

Life is not meant to be easy!

Life is a gift.
A wonderful privilege.
Full of adventure, love & happiness.
Life brings both wonder and excitement.

But,

Life is not easy.
It is challenging.
It often feels hard.

Hard work.
Hard relationships.
Hard choices.

Of course many of us recognise that some people have had a ‘harder life’ than others. (Which helps us keep a balanced perspective).

However,

We are also very aware of the challenges we ALL face.


Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle – Plato


Do you often feel that life is hard?
Harder than you thought it would or should be?

Perhaps?
Definitely?
Always?
Sometimes?

Why is it that?

white paper blanks on rope

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and it has caused me to think through a number of questions:

Is life actually meant to be hard or are we getting a raw deal?
Do other people find life as hard as you do?
Do you hope that life will get easier someday?

Sometimes I think we have believed a lie that life is supposed to be EASY.

That it is easy for some.

Easy for them.

In the West, we are sold that lie every day. Adverts, films, books, magazines and social media, all feed the ideal of a better, happier and more comfortable life.

But do things and comfort actually make you happy?

white paper blanks on rope

I often say to my husband that the media often sell us the lie about the ‘perfect family life’.

The good looking Mum and Dad have an awesome, romantic, yet down to earth marriage. They work hard, but also have lots of time to invest in their beautiful children. They have plenty of money, a stunning home, car, clothes and go on amazing holidays.

Life looks easy!

Does that not sound attractive?

But in reality family life is often anything but ideal.

FAMILY – is often hard work!

In many ways I have what might seem an ‘ideal’ family life. Matt and I have a great marriage. We have to work at it, like everyone else, but we managed to set a firm foundation from the start which has provided great stability in our home.

We have two healthy, beautiful, kind, loving and intelligent girls who flourish at school, are creative and full of life.

And yet we, like many others, find that in reality family life is often exhausting.
Parenting is tough.
Directing selfish kids is a challenge.

We can dream of consistent ‘family bliss’ but I am not sure that it really exists.


FAMILY – is often hard work!


Our kids regularly fight, argue, push against boundaries, complain and challenge us until we are tempted to run away and hide under a rock for a while – until things get easier.

Often ‘quality family time’ is far from wonderful. In fact sometimes it feels like something we all have to endure rather than thrive on. (Especially when you have small children)

I actually started writing this post on holiday. The ‘prime’ of quality family time. Supposedly a time of fun, laughter, love and relaxation.

….And although there is truth in that (we have had some wonderful times together)…

In reality even holidays don’t stop the responsibilities of being parents and the kids squabbling & complaining.

So what do we do?
Do we just give up on family life?

No!

We know we have to push through the hard times so that we can then appreciate the wonder and beauty of family.

To keep on keeping on!

No one really lives the fairy tale ideal anyway!

leadership pain

I have just finished reading a fantastic book called ‘Leadership Pain’ by Samuel Chand. It was both refreshing and insightful to read him, and so many others, acknowledging the ‘pain’ that is unique to leaders. Whilst encouraging us to keep on growing, which means constantly raising the threshold of our pain.

Often people can look at leaders around them and assume they must have life all figured out. That they enjoy their ‘power’ and ‘bask’ in the limelight.

This is rarely the truth.

Of course people can pursue and abuse power and hide their true selves.

But true leadership is often more challenging than many of us imagined. In the same way that the responsibility of leading/ parenting our children is.

Leadership, like parenting, is often hard. It is often painful. You have to make many sacrifices. You will get hurt.

You are leading real people. Helping them to grow and develop. You have to have courage to lead the way, even when you haven’t been there before yourself. Even when people don’t get you or your decisions and push against your authority.

Samuel Chand writes,

“There is no growth without change, no change without loss and no loss without pain. If you are not hurting, you are not leading. Your vision for the future has to be big enough to propel you to face the heartaches and struggles you find along the way.”

Leadership and parenting are inherently HARD. So you have to have a vision for the future that keeps you going through the tough times.

You must believe that your current investment, as a parent and leader, is worth while. You need hope for your child’s future, hope that many of the people you lead, will grow, develop and move forward. That is where you ultimately find joy and satisfaction.

It all comes down to perspective. Without the right perspective we can get drowned by the hard times and lost in the pain.

white paper blanks on rope

Life, in its essence is often NOT easy and the sooner we get our heads round that, the sooner we can prepare our minds to face the challenges life brings.

Responsibility
Hard work
Pain
Suffering
Rejection
Perseverance

Are all a fact of life.


Life, in its essence is often NOT easy and the sooner we get our heads round that, the sooner we can prepare our minds to face the challenges life brings.


We all have dreams for the future but they will usually not fall into our laps. Instead, we must face the fact that often WE have to make the right choices and keep on making the right choices for things to work out.

We have to CHOOSE the longer and harder road to experience longer term satisfaction.

We have to invest in our lives early on, making the necessary sacrifices along the way.

People want love without sacrifice.
But that does not exist.
Love and sacrifice are coexistent.
That is why we find family life and relationships hard.

Leadership is the same. Great leaders are not driven by selfish ambition. They are driven by a desire to serve others. To do this, great leaders love their followers.

And if:
LOVE = SACRIFICE.

Great leaders, like great parents, sacrifice for those they lead.

Sacrifice in its essence is hard.
Which means true love is hard.

Life was never meant to be easy. Life is an adventure. Adventures are in their essence challenging. But they are also so exciting.

We cannot experience the joys of life without embracing it’s challenges. It is the hard times which help us appreciate the good times.

It’s all about perspective.


You will never understand pleasure without pain. – T D Jakes


Do you find life hard?
How do you find strength to face it?

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Breaking Free! From Discouragement

Do you ever feel discouraged?

I do
a lot.

Or at least a lot more than I should.

In fact, I started writing this post today because I began to feel discouraged. There was no particular reason, just more general feelings and thoughts which attempted to flood my mind and pull me into a discouraged place.

That might come as a surprise to a lot of people who know me personally, because I tend to be very positive and upbeat about life.

But I have a confession to make.

I battle with discouragement a lot.

I often find it creeping up on me, tapping away at my thoughts, attempting to get its claws into me.

A cloud that comes down and brings a foggyness to my outlook. Reminding me about all the obstacles, frustrations & challenges before me. It surrounds me and it’s difficult to break through.

It attacks my confidence, enthusiasm and identity. I can feel:
demoralised,
disappointed,
downhearted,
despondent.

It sucks away at the energy and life within me attempting to
kill my passion,
steal my joy &
plunder my peace.
Until I feel like I have no energy left to fight it anymore.

But I have learnt I have to fight it early on …. Regardless!

I can’t let it win. I have to break free from discouragement and it’s hold over me before it pulls me into a darker place that I will struggle to get free from.

I have to daily ‘take on’ the thoughts of discouragement and choose to see with more hope and faith. Some days that battle is harder than others, however, it is necessary to see life more positively.

Breaking free from Discouragement copy

WHAT DISCOURAGES US?

There are lots of different things and each one of us is affected by it in different ways.
Perhaps someone let you down, broke your trust, walked away.
Maybe your job or school work is harder than you expected and you are not making the progress you wanted.
Perhaps marriage and having children hasn’t been the experience you dreamt of.
Maybe life just seems to be hard and you are struggling to muster up the strength to continue each day.
Perhaps your plans and dreams haven’t worked out, things have gone wrong and you can’t see a way forward.

Discouragement knocks at your door and it’s hard to resist the flood of negative thoughts it brings with it telling you:

You are a failure
A nobody
You are not going to make it
You are not good enough
What you do is not enough
Why not give up
No one cares
You will just get hurt
Why do you bother
Things are never going to get any better.

All this is just too hard!
Life is just too hard!

But

We can’t let discouragement win!

I believe that discouragement is one of the biggest struggles that leaders, in particular, have to overcome. Until you become a leader, in any setting, you have no idea how hard it is.

You have to find the energy and passion to keep going yourself, plus a load extra to carry everyone else with you. It’s hard. There are a lot of responsibilities & commitments, that you have to shoulder. When everyone else drops out you have to stay standing strong and do it alone if necessary.

It’s in this area that I probably face the most discouragement.

To be a leader you have to have vision. This means that you are constantly seeing what ‘could be.’ Discouragement often takes hold when the ‘could be’ seems miles away from the current reality and the progress you are making seems so slow.

Every leader has days when they feel discouraged, wish they could throw in the towel and ignore their responsibilities. Discouragement comes knocking and it takes all your might to keep the flood gates closed.

This is why we should think about how we can encourage leaders.
Trust me, they need it!


Discouragement often takes hold when the ‘could be’ seems miles away from the current reality and the progress you are making seems so slow.


HOW CAN WE DEAL WITH DISCOURAGING THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS?

We have to fight discouragment. We have to push through it.

Discouraged people discourage people.

Negativity spreads like wild fire.

When people are discouraged it spreads. It takes a lot of courage and strength to break through an atmosphere of discouragement and refuse to be part of letting it spread. But it is the only way to stop it in its tracks.


Discouraged people discourage people.


Rick Warren wrote about discouragement:

“Fight back! Discouragement is a choice. If you feel discouraged, it’s because you’ve chosen to feel that way… Hang on! Do what’s right in spite of your feelings. No feeling lasts forever.”

Some people don’t like hearing that our feelings can be a choice. It means we have to accept more responsibility for what we feel, think and how we behave.

But I believe we have a lot more control over our emotions than we might think. I am not talking about hiding them or pretending they are not there, that isn’t healthy. I am talking about learning to not be ruled or defined by them.

Emotions and feelings usually begin with thoughts. We cannot necessarily control the initial thoughts that come into our head but we can choose whether we dwell on them or not, whether to let them draw us into a negative mindset. Which is something I spoke about in Breaking Free! From Worry.

When thoughts of discouragement enter my mind if I do not stop them in their tracks they have the potential to snowball and pull in other thoughts until my perspective becomes overwhelmed and I feel rubbish about everything.

Breaking free copy

HOW CAN I FIGHT DISCOURAGEMENT?

Be honest with myself.
Trying to ignore discouragement often makes it worse. It can pull us into the dangerous place of pretending and you can only pretend for so long before the reality comes crashing down upon you.

I realise I can’t do it alone.
I am personally grateful for the inner strength that comes from my relationship with God. I talk to him. I listen to his still small voice encouraging me, renewing my strength and vision.

I speak to someone I trust and I know will encourage me.
My husband Matt is great at that. Or a close friend can help. Someone I know who will help me to see with a more positive perspective.

I read words that will help me.
From the bible, good books, articles, or the hundreds of inspiring quotes I store in my phone.

I try to remember everything that I can be thankful for.
Even when other things are going wrong around me.

I look for opportunities to encourage someone else. 
Sometimes getting the focus off me and my problems, being aware of other people’s challenges and choosing to encourage them, helps me to break through my own discouragment.

It can take a lot of courage to choose to be hopeful in the face of discouragement. To keep trusting and believing even when things are a struggle.

But it’s the only way. Despair is not an option.

In this verse from the Bible God encourages Joshua to be strong and courageous not discouraged and afraid, so that he can lead the people.
In this verse from the Bible God encourages Joshua at the start of his leadership journey.

It starts with a choice.

Choose to be encouraged. Learn how to encourage yourself and let others encourage you.

You can then become an encourager rather than a discourager to other people and help to turn the tide away from a culture of criticism and negativity.

There is always something good going on around you that you can celebrate.

We just have to choose to see it. 


I would love to hear what you think:

Do you struggle with discouragement?
What do you do to deal with it?

There are lots of things we can do to fight against discouragement. Carey Nieuwhof gives some good advice in this blog post.

This post is part of my .Breaking Free. series of posts. Click here to see posts on Breaking Free from Fear and Worry.

Breaking Free! From Fear

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

Don’t you find the above quote both inspiring and liberating?

A few years ago, when I truly began to grasp this concept, it was such a revelation to me. I began to see that I did not have to wait for the feelings of fear to subside before doing something that I felt was right. I just had to muster up enough courage to do it despite feeling afraid.

It was so empowering!

I have found that the only way to conquer fear is to face it.
Avoiding it only ingrains it further.

Fear entraps you and lies to you that you can never get free from its claws. It takes control of your thoughts until your thinking becomes irrational. It feeds on worry, anxiety and negative thinking. It wraps around you, squeezing the life out of you, until you give in to its demands.

Fear stops you from being the person you really are and tries to lock you into a place you feel safe. And even within that safe place (or comfort zone) it can take hold of your thoughts, paralysing you and trapping you to that perceived place of safety.That safe place can then actually begin to choke the life out of you because you get stuck and feel trapped, longing to break free but not knowing how.

Breaking free from fear copy

I just put on my husband Matt’s album ‘Heart Bowed Down’ that he wrote, recorded and released two years ago. He wrote most of the songs and did most of the work, but there are two of my songs on there which I wrote and sing and I am also singing backing tracks on many.

Until we made and released the album I did not realise quite how many fears I had, and in fact still have to overcome, related to it.

It was a bold step to invest financially in the recording equipment, for Matt to spend the time learning how to use it and then going through the exciting, yet agonising process of recording them.

It’s a roller-coaster of emotions. One minute your emotions are up and you feel the adrenaline and anticipation of what you are doing. The next moment you are full of doubt, insecurity and fear, especially when things are not sounding how you want them to.

The biggest challenge though, definitely came in releasing the album. Selling the album and giving it to other people is when the fears really take hold.

‘What are they thinking?’
‘Will anyone like it?’

It goes round and round in your head as you wonder and analyse people’s reactions. You speculate about others opinions and it eats away at your thoughts.

I would say that even now as I put on the CD in the car or listen to it on the iPod and hear my songs, my first reaction is often fear!

What?

Why on earth do I feel fear when I hear my songs?

I feel a fear and awkwardness;
That others have listened to it.
Made up their own opinions about it;
love it,
like it,
hate it,
remain indifferent.
That we dared to put it out there.
That we gave and sold it to so many people.

What did they think?
What did they say?
How did they rate it? 
How did they rate me?

I also feel fear because I can, like many of us, be self critical. I hear all the mistakes, I am not sure I even like the sound of my voice most times I hear it. I compare our songs to professionally produced music and…

To be honest it often makes me want to cower under rock and throw the album in the bin.

You don’t know how much humility it can take to ‘put yourself out there’ until you do it. Often people can mistaken this courage for pride, but actually it can also take a lot of humility.

You have to fight through the fear that holds onto you with all its might. Tying you down, paralysing you, speaking doubts and insecurities into your mind, trying to stop you moving forward.

I am thankful that we had enough courage to release that album. I know it blessed and encouraged a lot of people. I also know it was a good test in facing and overcoming personal fears. It was an exercise in getting over what people think.

If we had waited until our fears subsided we never would have taken the plunge. Even in the midst of courage fear still knocked at our hearts and minds. But we knew we had to step out – despite our fears.

Fear can keep us bound up in mediocrity because mediocrity feels safe. It’s when you try it do something different, when you take that plunge, that fear becomes more pronounced.

And yet stepping out is also so liberating!

Breaking free copy

If you know me personally, you may well think of me as very confident around other people, an extrovert perhaps. (Although in reality I don’t feel that either the extrovert or introvert labels fully define me – I am a mix of the two in different ways). This is because one of the things that most defines my life is building relationships with others.

This means that I tend to know a lot of people.

Some people might then assume that I find it easy to meet, talk to and get to know new and different people.

But I would say that is only a half truth.

In actual fact, over the years, and on a daily basis I have trained myself to overcome my fears, break out of my comfort zone and speak to lots of different people I don’t know.

It partly comes with the territory of being church leaders. You can’t effectively lead people unless you can build relationships. We welcome new people into our church and the various activities we run on a weekly basis. Day in, day out, over the years, I have trained myself to reach out a hand of friendship and relationship to as many people as I can, from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures – regardless of their response.

Regardless of my fears about what they might be thinking.
Regardless of the potential rejection or hurt.

So I have broken through my social paralysis year by year, day by day, person by person. Deliberately placing myself in uncomfortable situations to attempt to break the power fear has over me.

Some days it’s easier than others.

Sometimes I want to stay in the shadows and not place myself again in the path of rejection or other people’s opinions. Maybe if I stay in the shadows people won’t notice me. Perhaps I won’t draw attention to myself. Maybe that would be safer and more comfortable.

And yet,

I would miss out!

If I obeyed my fears I would not have met and built friendships with so many wonderful people. If I had let my insecurities and speculation about what others thought overcome me, I would not be so rich relationally. I would not have the privilege of knowing and learning from such a diverse set of people.

It doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with fear.

Far from it!

Fears connected to what other people are thinking about me daily try to get their claws into me. I actually wrote about this in my post on the insecurity of others opinions.

But I have decided not to let fear win. That fear will not control my actions. That I will choose to ‘do it afraid’ until I reach a point where I have conquered it and hold firm to that calm voice within me saying ‘do not be afraid.’

What fears bind you?
Do you really want to break free?

Fear will stop us breaking free if we let it. It pushes us into a self preservation cycle, desperate to protect ourselves from what might harm or hurt us. It can pull people into self destruction and all sorts of bad habits and addictions. It causes people to put up barriers, push others away and build a hard exterior where they look strong, yet underneath they are scared, vulnerable and angry.

The tragedy is that each day so many of us allow fear to control our actions, fill our thoughts, damage our relationships and steal our strength.

Fear is exhausting!

We miss so many opportunities because:
Fear told us we couldn’t do it.
We cared too much about what other people might think.
We rehearsed all the things that could go wrong, rather than getting excited about what might go right.

Each day I know I have to choose to break free from fear. Not allowing my fears to win and deciding that when fear tries to paralyse me:

I will refuse to obey it.

So let’s cheer one another on to – press on regardless! To break free from the if’s and but’s and instead listen to the gentle voice of wisdom and truth within us saying,

Go for it, step out, don’t be afraid!

But even if you still feel full of fear.

Don’t give up!

Dig deep for that courage.
Decide to press on regardless.

DO IT AFRAID!

It’s the only way to overcome, conquer and break free!

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

    In this verse from the Bible God encourages Joshua to be strong and courageous so that he can lead the people.
In this verse from the Bible God encourages Joshua to be strong and courageous so that he can lead the people.

This post is part of the .Breaking Free. series of blog posts. Follow this link to read the series introduction.