Every Christmas season I hear people say something about all of the gifts and materialism. They usually share how all of the materialism makes them feel bad and they wonder if the true meaning of Christmas gets lost in all of its wrappings. You certainly can make the case that Black Friday overshadows Thanksgiving as the “sacred” holiday (President Lincoln purposed the day for thanksgiving and praise to “our benevolent Father”) of that third weekend in November. In fact, we've created three nationally-known “holidays” around the act of shopping during those few days. Black Friday is followed by Small Business Saturday and then Cyber Monday (Amazon's favorite day of the year). And, even though we do try to offset the consumerism by having Giving Tuesday (where we give toward socially responsible nonprofit work), the shopping days of deals get the center of attention.
I think consumption is more of an issue for many of us than we want to admit – not materialism, not consumerism, but consumption. In fact, I don't think it tires us like the Christmas shopping season does; I think it's so ingrained for some of us that it propels us. We look forward to buying the next item. In fact, we seek out new things to purchase.
But, we can't easily notice consumption because, like a fish in an aquarium, it's the “world” we swim in. We consume experiences, food, relationships (we excuse this with various learned defenses), and we pursue the latest gadgets (or at least I do) with excitement. Consumption is an area that God had been working on in my life and so I've been able to recognize it in others' lives as well. The solution for me has been to revisit the spiritual disciplines with an eye toward their role in habit-formation. I've been helped along this journey by some great books, Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. More recently, I've been profoundly “confronted” by You Are What you Love by James K. A. Smith (I know, I'm late to the party on this popular book). Through some intensive reflective reading, I've been able to spot consumption's place in my life and root it out from its hiding place. I would have to add that it was Smith's book that helped me take some life-altering steps forward.
We've been shaped over time by “models” (images, others, friends, and media) that show us “the good life” and how to live. It's not that we want more stuff or experiences, it's that we consume them and then move on. The very thing that brings joy one year is discarded the next for the next new thing. The selfie that is taken at one vacation spot, a goal for one year, is replaced by a goal for a new selfie in another. #bucketlist anyone?
For leaders, the want for more is a part of the DNA I think. Not for all, I know, but consuming can sneak in behind conversations about building platform, growing our influence, and being an entrepreneur. I know that some of us who write and work in this social media arena need to “build a platform” and have an entrepreneurial spirit (at least I'm saying so now. I'm open to your input on this) to get our work done, but there is an inherent danger present as well. But there's a quick measurement to see if this is true in our lives. Answer these two questions: How joyful is your heart? How content are you? Ouch… I know.
Fortunately, not everyone struggles with consumptive temptations. But, I think most leaders who have a drive do. As I've shared, it's an area I've had to work on and I still seem to keep tripping up. Some days I don't feel like I've grown much farther from the 14-year-old me who used to spend his paper route money on ice cream caramel sundaes (a story I tell in my forthcoming book, The Self-Aware Leader). As I've identified the consumption leanings in my life, I've seen it in other leaders as well, especially the young adults I teach and mentor each week. Here are 5 ways that consumption will affect the leader and his or her effectiveness.
- Creates a consistent restlessness. The want for “more” in various forms is the opposite of contentedness. And driven people are often discontent. How content are you? For the next 10 years, can you keep doing what you are doing, living where you're living, and live life with joy and fulfillment? If not, why not? The answers may be noble, but it's important to know the answers.
- Devalues true friendship. If the desire for “more” is present in our lives, then we can act like our friends are something to consume as well. We don't have a track record of close or long-term friends in our lives. We excuse it by saying that we're “task-oriented” or some other phrase, or we aren't vulnerable and caring as if we'll be staying long. So, conversations are fun but shallow, and time spent is as we desire more than that of our friends' desires.
- Recklessly optimistic and private about your future. If I'm the center of my universe, then we can say “I've got this” and think that we do. We can fix most problems.
- Causes you to change your goals. Consumption and the desire for “more” can get us off track of fulfilling God's calling in our lives. Consumption puts our appetites (we call it “passions” sometimes) at the center of our decision-making. Consumption always says “more” (we call it “next level” or “influence” sometimes) and so we push for that. What if the growth you see in 2017 isn't numerical at all, but is in depth of character and presence in others' lives? Would you be content with that?
- Consumption practices can take up the best of your time and energy. Probably the most sinister of the five is this one. What gets your best attention and energy? What thoughts are rolling through your mind as you work each day?
This week, pay attention to your consumptive habits. What is it that can easily capture your time, attention, and money?