Every summer is a  “reset” period for many of us, a chance to do some things that the warmer weather and change of work-pace allow. We exercise more, read new things, and spend time on vacation “away” from the routine. In this period we often gain a fresh perspective on our life, health, direction, and more. Some of us mix in spiritual retreats to pull away and renew our relationship with God.

Too often, we slide into the season a bit scarred, stressed, or broken and it ends up being a time of renewal and repair. You may have experienced a season where you were pushed around or had to endure significant adversity, stress, and difficulty. Or worse.

Most of us are just stressed and the summer season invites us to slow down a bit and reflect. Others of us have said “yes” to too many things and so summer looks busy, but with work we love to do. (You can guess that I’m in this group for this summer.)

This year has been a bit of a whirlwind with two new books coming out and a killer third season of 37 the Podcast where we tripled our audience reach. TEACHING THE NEXT GENERATIONS came out in November of 2017 and was named a finalist for the ECPA Christian book of the year awards. Then, in March 2017, THE SELF-AWARE LEADER was published by InterVarsity Press and that has prompted a consistent series of conversations with leaders about blind spots and future direction. It seems like a lot of us are feeling stressed and in need of clarity for next steps.

It seems like a lot of us are feeling stress and in need of clarity for next steps. In fact, the need for clarity seems as acute as ever. That’s why I’m offering a fresh resource guide that I’ve used in my own life and I now use when coaching others. It’s been helpful for me and for those who’ve used it. It’s completely free, of course, and helps us name our purpose, identify what’s in our bucket, and lay out the path we want to follow. If you grab it and try it, I’d love to hear how it helped you.

One of the things I’ve discovered is that often what creates stress for us comes from our own doing. For instance, college students procrastinate and leave their work for the last three weeks of the semester. Then, during those days, they nearly explode from the stress, lack of sleep, and frantic activity. And they turn in work that is anything but their best. So, you’ll see that some of these principles are small corrections to some practices we perform that elevate hostility or foster separation from others.

Here are 8 principles you can put to use this week to help you reduce stress and to gain clarity for your future.

  1. WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO? After 25 years of developing and launching leaders as my full-time work, I feel like I’ve got it all figured out some days. However, recently I sat with a dear colleague who’s been a long-time leader in corporate and church settings. As I was sharing with him over a lunch, he smiled and asked, “What do you WANT to do?” The funny thing was that I paused and the answer didn’t readily come. Since he and I have each coached 100s of leaders over the years, we both chuckled at the hesitation, knowing what it meant. Despite having a job that I love and feel in my lane each day, I was unable to identify what part of my job I really wanted to do. There was a stress and uncertainty about what I wanted to do, or if I should even concern myself with the question at all. I find similar hesitations with others as well. It is helpful to be able to answer this question before you move on.
  2. WHAT IS YOUR TED TALK? If you had an opportunity to share for 18 minutes and the whole world was listening in, what would you share? What is your life message? Imagine you’re on the TED TALK stage with 18 minutes or less to share.What would you speak about? Identifying what THAT message is will help you clarify what burdens you for your work with others.
    • This is a helpful exercise to imagine with those you listen to for your advice. Imagine that each of them is giving a TED Talk. What would they choose to talk about? Would it be substantive or a marketing message in disguise? Would it touch your heart or would it point to their work? Would it have staying power in your life ten years from now? I have a preference in seeking wisdom from those who’ve honed it in the everyday kilns of leading others up close and who have a track record of ending well with those they have mentored, taught, or led.
  3. MAJOR IN ENCOURAGEMENT. Gosh, I can’t jump and down about this any more than I already do. But, I’m shocked regularly by how little real encouragement there is in ministry settings. In fact, I think the business world gets this better than the church world. It should be the other way around! Pause here and write down seven people you “lead” in some way (e.g. parenting, coaching, pastoring, or supervising) and then list one thing for each that they either do for you or mean to you. Then make a plan to encourage them about that in the next seven days. We underestimate the power of appreciation … ESPECIALLY in churches. And, let me press in a bit more, often what people want is more than a “good job” from us; They want our time. So, let me suggest that for each of your seven you listed that you make a plan to spend an hour with them in the next four weeks and get it scheduled. This, of the principles I list here, may make the biggest difference.
  4. DURING DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS, WORK IN FROM THE EDGES OF THE “PUZZLE.” I discuss this in THE SELF-AWARE LEADER in the chapter “Seeing your Conflicts.” When putting a puzzle together, we don’t start with the middle. Instead, we complete the edges first. You need to do the same in your conversations and relationships. There is a context to every person and every conversation. America is a “low-context” culture where what is said is seen as most important. So, we run “right to the middle” too often and miss the larger picture that frames what’s going on. We can take a lesson from our Eastern brothers and sisters who lead in “high-context” cultures where they are wisely aware of the larger context.
  5. MOVE FROM BEING A CONFRONTER TO A CLARIFIER. This is similar to #4 but may help nuance things better. If you’re a “fix it” person like me, we can ride into situations a “whompin’ and a-stompin” and create a mess. Bobb Biehl says that we will create fewer messes and reduce anxiety if we stop to clarify situations before we confront. When we encounter a situation, it’s like we’re at an intersection of two roads and we need to stop long enough to check for traffic, pedestrians, and look for warning signs. When we come to crossroads with others, the need to check and clarify is even more important before proceeding.
  6. CLARIFY YOUR MAIN THING. I’ll never forget when, as a teenager, I heard Chuck Swindoll say, “Life is like a coin. You can spend it any way you wish, but you can only spend it once.” What is it that you’re spending your life on? What is it that you WANT to spend it on? What is it you were created by God to do?  Getting this right and clear reduces a lot of stress and keeps us from being bound by indecision and emotional malaise.
  7. WHAT OPPORTUNITIES ARE BEFORE YOU? Sometimes leadership and work are simply stepping into what is before you. Certainly, Joseph (in the Old Testament) became a leader via opportunity. There was a need (for dream interpretation and then to prepare for the coming famine) and he stepped up to meet it. My hunch is that you can look back on your life and see where your life was defined by opportunities, both those taken and those missed. I find that we often over-mysticize or over-spiritualize leadership and elevate it to some platform only a chosen few can aspire to. Like Moses at the burning bush, God simply asks each of us what is in our hands and then tells us He wants to do HIS wonders in your life with those talents, gifts, abilities, and opportunities. Take five minutes and identify no more than five opportunities you have. Where do those opportunities lead you?  What do they say about what you should be doing?
  8. MAKE A 90 DAY PLAN TO DO THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS. Dr. Steve Douglass once asked, “What three things can we do in the next 90 days to make a 50% difference?” So, answer that question for you. What three things should you choose to do in the next 90 days that will help you most? Maybe it’s financial or spiritual. Perhaps it’s even physical (like exercising, watching what you eat, or taking a day off each week). But, you have the next 90 days and a clean slate, so what have you been thinking about or putting off that you need to get serious about? Write them down, clear the schedule, and then get started.

I hope these are helpful for you. I’d love to hear from you as you give any of them a chance. And, don’t forget all of the resources that surround THE SELF-AWARE LEADER on the book’s webpage. I have received many notes from people that love the questions at the end of each chapter. I also have downloadable questions for ministry teams, small groups, and supervisors to use as they work through the book with others.