How Are You Branding Yourself?

You are branded, whether you know it or not.  We all are.  Every , company, team and every individual.

When you think of branding, you probably think of marketing or advertising.  Branding is all around us. TV, radio, websites, social media, signs and billboards and even on our clothing.  The idea behind commercial branding is to make an impression on you that will be remembered. It will prompt you to take action to enter into a positive transaction. We try to distinguish our service or product, as having a greater benefit than other options.

Branding increases our opportunities. The reason branding is so effective is because it allows the consumer to take a peek behind the mask.  It helps them see what we are all about.  Consumers want to know what we stand for and what our mission is. Why should they trust us, and most of all, what you are going to do for them.
Branding can be used in many ways.  Branding is used as an agent of influence.  It helps the world see our “best” side, hoping to keep our “work in progress” side non-visible.  It can also be used to connect with people through transparency and authenticity.  Regardless of the branding motives, the consumers will always determine effectiveness.  They will always have the last say.

Think about successful companies like McDonalds, Chick filA, Apple, Disney and Toyota.  They generally have great credibility in the eyes of consumers.  People are fanatics because of how these brands make them feel. How they make their world just a little better.  It is an experience, not just a product.
Not all branding ends up as initially planned.   When you hear the name Enron, you remember the scandal that took the whole company down along with many associated business’s. How about “New Coke”?  Back in 1985 they thought they were on to something great only to find out their consumers wanted the “Old Coke” back.  They had some damage control to do.  I am sure Pepsi got a chuckle.

In one way branding is sharing “who you are”, or at least who you wish for them to think you are.  Who you are will largely determine whether they wish to continue with you.  This is true with companies, products, services and even individuals.  We like to think that what we brand is exactly what others will perceive.  What ever people perceive defines your brand.

Over the past year or so I have been hearing more and more about “personal branding”.  This is not a new concept, but it has been popping up more and more lately.  There must be something more to it.  Personal branding is much like any other branding. It is intentionally building credibility in the eyes of others. Personal branding can increase your opportunities if done effectively.

Those who are not on the front line of marketing or sales, you too are branding yourself, whether you know it or not.  Someone may ask “But I am a restaurant manager, how am I branding myself?”  Your customers, employees, and your supervisors are continually evaluating “who you are”.  They determine what you represent by what they see in you. This is how we as humans determine level of trust.  We do it subconsciously, without even knowing we are doing it.  It’s not only what you say about yourself, but your actions and behaviors.  You won’t always behave according to what you say, but you will always behave according to who you truly are.

This brings me to the heart of personal branding.  Some would say that your actions will determine “who you are”.  I say “who you are” will determine your actions.  When you do things or behave in ways that are generally not in line with who you really are, you may find yourself running out of mojo, and reverting back to who you really are.  This is the reason you don’t generally see the real person is on the first date.  In most every case, given time, who they really are comes out. This hold true with new employees and new leaders on the scene.  There is such an emphasis on first impressions (and they are important), but not enough emphasis on continued impressions.

We can’t fake it for long. An honest person doesn’t need to remember what they told people.  A caring person doesn’t need to pretend to care. And a person with emotional intelligence doesn’t need to hold their anger in.  When “who you are” stands out above others as excellence, others will go out of their way to be part of what you are doing. When “who you are”, regardless of what you say stands out negatively, others will go out of their way to avoid you.  Who I am will determine my brand.
The effectiveness of any leader is determined by their personal brand. This isn’t always realized by the leader.  When a leader justifies himself by his own assessment of his work, or by his intentions or desires, he misses out on one of the most important resources he has. The truth as seen by others. We love to hear others tell us how much they like our brand, but when it comes to a hard honest evaluation, most of us too often turn a blind eye.  We don’t want to know about the bad stuff.

Protect your personal brand like it is the key to all future opportunities, BECAUSE IT IS!

Your future opportunities will depends on the impression you leave on everyone who crosses paths with you.  This is your wake that you leave behind.  You will either be a magnet that attracts others to your personal brand, or something less.  If you  don’t offer the world anything remarkable, don’t be surprised if others don’t seek out your un-remarkableness.

In your workplace, if you show stress and fail to keep your emotions in check, you are branding yourself.  If you believe you are always right, and are condescending to people, you are branding yourself.  If you show up late and take short-cuts, you are branding yourself.  If you are more concerned over results than you are people, you are branding yourself.  If you fail to take full responsibility for your actions, make excuses and blame others, you are branding yourself,  Likewise if your actions line up with values such as integrity, commitment, personal growth, transparency and kindness, you are branding yourself.

If you are struggling with your personal brand, or if others are struggling with YOUR personal brand, don’t give up.  There is hope.  You can learn to improve your brand by first beginning to change what you believe about yourself.  You can’t change what others see in you (your brand), until YOU change what you see in you.

You have the ability to brand yourself to make an impact in your workplace, your family, in your community.

If you want to make sure you are displaying a positive impression that will lead to opportunities, you’ll need to be willing to change your perspective. You may benefit from finding a person that has the skills and desire to coach you to become the brand you know you can be, and wish to display to others.

I would be glad to discuss with you the opportunity to help you change your personal brand.  You can change “Who you are”.

5 Things Shift Leaders Need

The Shift Leaders Challenge

If you are a leader in the service industry, you fully understand how important our Shift Leaders are to our business.  Shift Leaders have a very challenging job.  They get to do much of the work and they don’t get to make many of the important decisions, yet they get their share of blame when the crew members they oversee fall short.

Shift Leaders are very valuable to restaurants.  They are leaders with the most hands on opportunity to make a direct difference with the crew and with customers.  They are right there in the thick of things rolling up their sleeves, making it all happen.

Sometimes Shift Leader training gets overlooked.  It’s easy to rely on their talent and experience as a crew member and overlook their need for leadership development.  This is usually an important transitional stage of a young leaders career and has the potential to make or break their leadership future.  Training sometimes gets truncated and they can tend to be a lightning rod for criticism when things don’t go right.  It all rolls downhill, but usually doesn’t quite make it to the bottom.

As veteran leaders in the service industry we have a responsibility to our entry level rock star leaders to help them kick off their leadership journey on the right foot.  Their survival may depend on it.  The example we set, and the impressions we make in these early years will stay with them for a lifetime.

Five things all Shift Leaders need from their Supervisors:

Quality Time – Shift Leaders need for their mentor to spend quality time with them. People don’t develop by accident.  Things don’t just happen without strategy and intentionality and certainly without trust.

When a supervisor takes a young leader and handcuffs with them, they introduce them to a new world. They begin to see their new opportunity in a new, practical, real way.  There is no substitution for going through the experience with someone you trust and look up to.  Likewise, there are few experiences more destructive than being thrown to the wolves during these vulnerable times.

A Vision Caster – Most young leaders have an idea of what they have done to earn the opportunity to be responsible for others in the organization.  What they usually lack is a clear understanding of what they may become.  When it comes to vision, few people really have an accurate perception of what they are capable of.  We tend to settle for what we already are, rather than focus on what we could someday become.  It takes a Leader to paint this picture for us.

A skilled and intuitive supervisor will be able to observe and identify specific areas of strength of their young protégés.  They have the power to help them understand their own talents and passions.  Without someone to paint a picture of what the future looks like, we tend to stay in the present.

Repetitious Communication – Shift Leaders need regular, daily communication.  The clay is still wet, it will take many conversations covering the same message over and over every day for some time in order for the message to take root and begin to be internalized.

Think about how many songs you know by heart.  You learned them by not intentionally memorizing them.  You learned them because you listened to them over and over again.  No one really likes this song but when you hear the lyrics “Here’s a little song I wrote…” people sing along, even against their own will.

Repetition is the key to any message that you wish to be heard, embraced, and passed on. You need to risk being a little annoying in order to make sure your students are developed without excuse, being armed with all the necessary buzz phrases firmly stuck in their heads. My team calls them Joelisms.

To Be Challenged – Everyone needs someone in their corner cheering them on to new adventures and new challenges.  Most of us are not capable of overcoming our natural fears without someone to walk with us through the doubt and confusion.

It is far too easy to stay in our comfortable zone and focus on the simplest or least challenging course.  It takes a leader to challenge us to move forward into unknown territory, to stretch our competence and raise our capacity.

A great leader influences their students to become leaders of themselves so that they are equipped to be leaders of others.

To Be Appreciated – There is no worse feeling than to put your blood sweat and tears into something to help someone or a group of people accomplish something, only to be dismissed without being noticed.

The more mature and self-sufficient we become the less we tend to rely on praise of others to fuel us.  We can forget that our fellow leaders at the beginning of their career still need encouragement to motivate their desire to perform. Everyone needs encouragement from time to time, but one of the most important skills we can develop is the ability to connect and read into other’s needs.  When we connect with them, we get a better idea of what makes them tick and how you can meet their emotional and motivational needs.

To Trust and Be Trusted (bonus)

All too many times our best crew people are left to fend for themselves and to learn the ropes by being thrown into the fire.  What they really need is to be able to trust their supervisor and know that they have their back when things get rough. They need to know they will not be stranded and that their needs are important. They need to know that when they have questions or problems, there is someone they can count on to help guide them to solutions.

If a young leader is ever going to be able to be trusted, their supervisors will need to prove to be trust worthy.  There is no shortcut for this.

Are you a leader?  or a leader of leaders?  There is a difference.

When I was a child…

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” 1Co 13:11

Have you ever met anyone that is a full fledged grown up in age, but has not been able to put ways of childhood behind them, someone stuck in time, paralyzed, lost in the world?  Of course you have. They are everywhere.  If you haven’t, you likely are that person. I was.

I remember when I became a man.  It wasn’t when I turned 18.  It wasn’t when I moved out, or paid rent on my own for the first time.  It wasn’t even when I got my first real job, or had my first long term relationship.

When I was 23 years old I remember how I viewed the world in great detail. I had been burned, had a serious attitude toward life and justified it vigorously.

There were three principles that were most important to me.

  1. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Take what you can get.
  2. You can only really trust yourself, everyone else will always let you down.
  3. It’s my life, I will live it how I want! Get off my back!

These three principles became my hiding place in my early adulthood.  They gave me direction (pleasure seeking), protected me from harm (other people) and made me the king of my world (It’s all about Me).  I was a pretty good thinker so I was able to stave off any threat that came along with my witt and ability to argue.  My guards were up and I was a self-preservation machine.  My artistic and deceptive skills allowed me to create a ficade of my life.  I wore whatever mask I needed at the time, and became what I needed, to get what I wanted.  Reality was something to mold, twist and make a slave out of.  Perception was reality, and deception was the way to change reality.

The Crash

And then it all caught up to me at once.  My world came crashing down in a pile of rubble.  Like waking up from a dream or experiencing sight for the first time, I realized that the earth didn’t really revolve around me. It was the greatest most painful loss, and at the same time the biggest sense of relief.

I took a long hard honest look at my life for the first time ever. I was ambarrassed and ashamed of the blindspots that everyone else already knew. I seemed I was the last to find out. I had been exposed.

I took a long look at myself, and here is what I discovered. My worldview was all wrong.  Here are some of the the values I had come to embrace throughout my life:

  • I must let nothing be my fault as to remain blameless.
  • I must allow myself a way out of any situation in case it gets difficult (avoid commitment).
  • I must hold everyone accountable for how they have hurt me.
  • I must be in control of the situation, and not be controlled by the situation or anyone.
  • I must convince everyone of my impressiveness so they will respect me.
  • I must hide my flaws so no one can criticize or look down on me.
  • I must expect grace for my actions, and justice for everyone elses.
  • I must not think about my problems or acknowledge they exist so I don’t have to deal with them.

I realized that I was eating and drinking and being marry to avoid committing to anything.  Committment requires trust.  I didn’t trust anyone, because that would mean I needed to be a person that could be trusted.  I was living life how I wanted because I didn’t want to be held accountable.  I was avoiding responsibility in most every way.

I realized that the worldview that I had embraced, that I thought was serving me, was actually waging war against my soul.  It became clear to me that seeking to serve my own needs left all my needs unmet.

It was that day that I decided I was going to put the ways of childhood behind me.   I was about to begin a brand new life of adulthood.

Because Jesus Christ took 100% responsibility for my sin, I was able to became 100% responsible for my life.  Not only my actions and bahavior, but also my thoughts and emotions.  No longer was I going to allow my circumstances to control my thoughts and keep me in emotional imaturity.  For the first time it wasn’t about self-preservation, pride or impressiveness.

I discovered a different set of principles to live by:

  • I must make no excuses for my actions, thoughts and sins.
  • I must embrace reality (truth) and live by it, rather than distorting it.
  • I must committ myself fully to people and responsibilities given to me.
  • I must forgive everyone who hurt me and expect nothing in return.
  • I must be transparent and humble. For when I am weak, I am strong.
  • I must be responsible for only what I can control, and patient with what I cannot control.
  • I must earn respect through putting others needs before my own.
  • I must expose my sin, purge it from my life and experience freedom.
  • I must live fully accountable for my actions.
  • I must face my fears and perservere through the obsticles holding me back.
  • I must surrender in order to have victory.

I still fall short, but now I am more aware and have a savior to vouch for me.

Give me a call, let’s chat. 319.930.1045 

 

 

 

 

How We Show Appreciation

The 5 Languages of Appreciation

A couple of weeks ago I was able to hear Dr. Paul White talk about his book that he co-authored with Gary Chapman called The 5 Languages of Appreciation. I had read Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages many years ago, but I connected with this book in a way that made me take a long look at how I appreciate the people in my work.

It is easy to believe that we are doing better at showing appreciation toward others than we really are. There aren’t very many people that are truly successful at showing it in the workplace, and we tend to grade ourselves on a curve. We can tend to believe that being unappreciated is just part of the experience that makes “work” work.

Dr White shared information to help illustrate just how wide this misconception really is.

Why People Stay

  • In a survey of over 35,000 employees completed by the Chicago Tribune, the number one reason cited by the respondents of why they enjoyed their work was: “I feel genuinely appreciated by this company” November 2013

The Big Picture

“More than 80% of employees say they’re motivated to work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work, and more than half of those surveyed said they would stay longer at their company if they felt more appreciation from their boss” (BusinessNewsDaily, 2013)

Why People Leave

  • 64% of Americans who leave their jobs say they do so because they don’t feel appreciated. (US Dept of Labor)
  • The number one factor in job satisfaction is not the amount of pay but whether or not the individual feels appreciated and valued for the work they do.

This survey focuses on how the employees feel they are valued in the workplace. It does not discuss how they really are valued. In some cases the problem may be more about the inability to communicate appreciation to valued employees rather than failing to truly appreciate them. An employee appreciated that doesn’t know it, can’t feel it. They can’t read minds.

The Gap

“While 51% of managers believe they do a good job of recognizing job well done by their staff, only 17% of the employees in the same groups believe their managers recognize them for doing a good job” (SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Survey, 2012)

According to this survey 34% managers are not aware of their failure to recognize when their team does a good job. The question is, are you one of those 34%, or do you work with anyone that falls into this category?

Recognition vs. Appreciation

One of the contributing factors to why individuals don’t feel truly appreciated is that leaders don’t always understand the difference between recognition and appreciation.

  • Recognition is largely about results or behavior, Catch them doing something great, and recognize them for it.
  • Appreciation is more personal, it focuses on the employee’s value as a person and an employee as well as their performance.
  • The relational direction of recognition is top-down, coming from leadership. Appreciation, on the other hand, can be communicated in any direction.

What Language are you speaking?

Dr. White and Dr. Chapman suggest that we may be “missing the mark” because we arent’ speaking the same language as our co-workers.

“Each person has a primary and secondary language of appreciation. Our primary language communicates more deeply to us than the others. Although we will accept appreciation in all five languages, we will not feel truly encouraged unless the message is communicated through our primary language.”

“When messages are sent repeatedly in ways outside of that language, the intent of the message “misses the mark” and loses the impact the sender had hoped for.”

If you are in a leadership position and feel you need help with understanding a better model of appreciation, I highly recommend that you read this book. The book discusses the 5 most common languages or channels that people tend to give and receive appreciation. This book has changed the way I will go about learning ways to show appreciation to each individual in my workplace.

Understanding my own language and learning others language is a game changer for me and I believe it can be for you. Appreciation is the secret weapon to bringing people together for a single cause. When we can appreciate our employees as if they were volunteers, we can change the entire culture of our workplace.

Please share your experience.

Principles vs. Values

111 Three PigsThe 3 Little Pigs

Remember the story of the Three Little Pigs? One built his house out of straw, one with sticks and the last with bricks.  They all three had good intentions for the most part, although to varying degrees.  The difference was not necessarily in their intentions, but in the foundational quality of the material.  This is true not only in the material world, but also in the cognitive world.  Our thoughts and what we believe to be true, will determine if our house will fall or remain standing in the face of the Big Bad Wolf.  Ideas have consequences.

Principles vs. Values

  • What are Principles? Principles are guiding truths that apply to all people in all places over all of time. It doesn’t matter if you believe in them or not, you will trip over them if you don’t realize their existence. Principles are often very inconvenient to those who want to live life on our own terms and very convenient for those who wish to navigate per reality.
  • What are Values? Values are preferred beliefs that support principles.  Values are subjective and do not apply to all people in all places over all time and vary from person to person or amongst cultures. Values are the methods that help you achieve a higher cause.

Example:  The Principle of Generosity is true and plays out consistently over time (see list below); however different people value different methods in expressing their generosity.  Some give of their money, some give of their time and effort, others encourage and support and yet others defend or protect.  These are all Values that people hold that are important to them and are for supporting the Principle of Generosity.

When principles are absent, values can operate on their own (not necessarily well) without the foundational support of principles. In the absence of principles, we value whatever meets our own needs.  Discovering these important principles is important to developing a foundation for future strength and significance for everyone who wishes to lead a fruitful life.

Why We Tell the Truth?

Integrity and honesty are both principles that are generally the foundation to why most honest people tell the truth.  People who value integrity and honesty tend to tell the truth not only when it is convenient to them, but even when it is not convenient to them.  The Principle is more important than their individual needs.  They realize the long-term benefit of integrity and honesty for the benefit to others, also for their own best interests.

Telling the truth is not actually a principle, rather a value.  Telling a lie, embellishing and other forms of deception are also values. If they help your cause (right or wrong) they have value (to you). They both support what is most important to you, so if you are NOT a person of Integrity and are more interested in your own wellbeing, telling the truth sometimes suits your self-interest. If this is the case, telling a carefully crafted lie may seem to suit your self-interest as well. If you do not hold the principle of respecting other people’s boundaries (property) you may hold theft as a value that you use from time to time to get what you need.  Noble principles are the anchor for all noble values. Self-centerness is also the anchor for all self-serving values.

The House on the Rock

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”   Mat 7:24-27 ESV

Stand For Something!:

Many people in our country fail to stand for anything significant. As generations pass fewer Americans engage in principle based thinking.  We don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, or project our standard onto others in fear that we will appear intolerant or politically incorrect. Tolerance and acceptance are very noble qualities, but when taken to extremes they can cloud our perspective leading us to compromise what we all know to be true.  We need to be strong and stand for proven principles even when it means causing others to stumble or discomfort for ourselves.

Many managers, leaders and parents fail to stand their ground and promote proven reality based principles. We often struggle with the confidence to stand up and express our allegiance to any higher principles, because we view principles and value the same. We see them as personal (subjective) rather than foundational (objective).  In other words, we give our personal values the prestigeous title of a principle, when it is no such thing.  It is just a supporting cast member at best, useful only to a bigger purpose.  And without purpose, your values are useless.

The result is a culture of floating standards (values) and a crop of managers, potential leaders and parents with little feeling of authority. We often feel powerless because we have not taken ownership of foundational truths or a commitment to defend them. Even when given full authority, we fail to feel empowered due to our self-imposed limitations and fears.

Application:

  • Most Americans believe in principles to some degree, but too often fail to take ownership and stand up for them because they don’t believe in a true Creator.
  • If you have an opinion (Value) ask yourself what universal principle it is attached to.  If you cannot come up with one, you may need to do some self-discovery.
  • When finding, ourselves fighting against life principles, we end up shipwrecked, running against the wind or trying to paddle upstream.
  • When we stand upon these very principles and hold onto them and live in harmony with them, we find footing and begin to stand firm on a solid foundation.

Build your house out of BRICKS!

Influence from the Inside Out

You cannot change anyone. 

To grow, one must make an internal choice to become something you are not, or do something you have not done.  This requires letting go of what already is, in order to embrace something that could be.  It must be by choice and not by direction or force for real change to take place.

The Problem with Leadership Today

Most business managers, leaders and even parents tend to go about developing people all wrong.  Most people in positions of leadership struggle when it comes to reshaping how people do things to reach a desired outcome. It may be that we are looking through the wrong end of the leadership binoculars.

Reshaping Behavior

Our authoritative culture attempts to alter or reshape people’s behavior.  There are so many rules, and regulations that tell us what we are supposed to do, and what we are not supposed to do.  I think of the song from the 70’s by the Five Man Electrical Band that says,

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind, do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

More on this in another Blog.

Motivation in the Workplace

In the industrial age workplace, we essentially bribe people to do a specific task.  The motive for efforts is less often because of desire, or because they truly believe in the cause. It is because rent needs paid, and mouths need fed.  In most industries, we see this play out.  Upper management has one vision that motivates them to see the company succeed. Frontline workers are blind to Managments vision.  They put in their time with no purpose, other than to follow directions to make a buck.

A Disconnect of Values

People feel they have little to gain for their effort when they don’t value the task at hand.   People will not give their best effort unless they have a good reason to.  The old school reasoning of “..because it’s your job!” just doesn’t seem to fly anymore.  The sense of personal responsibility of our past generations has been replaced. People need to be personally vested in something before they give their best effort.  The old way of managing people with the expectations of responsibility is fading away.  A more personal, and missional approach is easing it’s way in on our job markets.

The Millennial Generation

Our younger generation  doesn’t have the same sense of corporate duty and responsibility as in the past.  They look at life as an individual journey. They have a more creative and personal approach toward impacting the world.  They need to be inspired to pour their efforts into something.  Technology has created a whole new way in which we communicate and interact with each other. It sparked a sense of creativity in young people that we have never seen before. Unfortunatly, however, creativity isn’t always what is needed in our workforce.

If the world around us is changing, we need to change with it.  We don’t need to compromise our principles and convictions. We need to learn better ways to connect with people if we intend to influence future generation.

Inspiration

We need to embrace a better way of leading and inspiring people to do something great!  People need to be inspired to believe they can become something they have not yet considered.  I have never met a person that has found their way to success without someone investing in their growth.  Our younger generation needs us to step up and help them, even if it seems like they not interested.

Connecting from the Inside Out

We need to connect with people from the inside out. Focusing on unfavorable behavior is an attempt to change people from the outside in.  If we learn to understand them and value them we can begin to inspire them toward being the best they can be.  When people grab a hold of a vision with purpose something in them gets stirred and a sense of mission takes over.  People are not that hard to keep interested and focused if we approach them with their best interest in mind.  When we try to change their external behaviors to meet our needs, words begin to fall on deaf ears.

Control Without Connection

No one likes to be pushed by someone that has not gained our trust or does not have our best interest in mind. No one likes to be ‘controlled’, no one likes for others to determine their steps for them.  We want to oversee our own life, make our own choices.  We are usually willing to follow someone who has a better vision than we do, providing it’s our own choice.

The Needs of the Millennial Generation

Young people need to be heard.  They need to know that their ideas and opinions matter and that someone is listening.  They want to be included in the plan, invited to the big kids table.  They want to use their creativity to help.  They want someone to get excited when they are excited and listen when they need to vent.  They don’t desire a list of do’s and don’t s, but they are willing to follow that list if they feel appreciated.

Millennials need challenged.  They need pushed to see just how far they can take their knowledge, skills and creativity.  When we are pushed we somehow get up the nerve to get past our fears. It ignites an excitement in our hearts that spur us on to something better.  We will never grow unless we are pushed by someone who we trust.  We need to be challenged by someone who we know has our best interest in mind, someone who isn’t going to leave us.

What kind of leader/parent are you going to be?

Are You Connected?

Need for connection

In the book How People Grow, Dr. Henry Cloud writes “People’s most basic need in life is relationship. People connected to other people thrive and grow, and those not connected wither and die. It’s a medical fact, for example, that from infancy to old age, health depends on the amount of social connection we have.”  He goes on to say “Virtually every emotional and psychological problem, from addictions to depression, has alienation or emotional isolation at its core or close to it. Recovery from these problems always involves helping people to get more connected with each other at deeper and healthier levels than they are.”

I believe that true happiness absolutely requires and depends on honest trustworthy personal relationships. In the work place this plays out in the need for trustworthy professional connections. The flip side of this would be that without deep relationships happiness or success cannot exist.  I think people resist getting close to others because they don’t think they need others as much as they really do.  At the center of this resistance is usually a lack of trust fed by fear.  As we grow up our ability to trust others usually is greatly affected by the environment we have spent the most time in.  If our experience is that people generally break their promises and let you down, we will be more cautious when considering letting someone into our personal circle.  We’ve been conditioned to disconnect.

Fear

Sometimes fear is a major cause for us to fail to connect with people.  We are afraid of what other people think of us and sometimes terrified of being rejected.  It’s much easier to be disconnected than to try to connect and face rejection. Like Tom Hanks character in Castaway and Matt Damon’s in The Martian, people who cannot trust and fear rejection or intimacy also have to figure out how to maintain their physical and mental health apart from others.

Finding great people

I was at a holiday gathering a while back and one of my relatives was asked where her boyfriend was.  She replied that they broke up, it was not working out.  She then asked if anyone had any suggestions to where she can go to find a “good man”.  She says that all the guys she has been involved with turn out to be duds.  This isn’t an uncommon thought.  I’ll bet there are several million people in our country that feel the same way about finding a soul mate.  There just don’t seem to be any decent ones out there.

Layers of separation

I was with my daughter the other day and a song came on the radio that she was singing to.  I asked her who was singing it.  She said, “are you kidding me?, you really don’t know who this is? Everyone knows this song.” It seems I live in a different world than she does.  What is so common in her world, is foreign to me. I was so close but so far away.

I think socially there are many different cultural layers all overlapping each other with each group being somewhat isolated from the other layers while sharing the same space.  It really is bizarre how these cultural layers can be literally standing in the same place, and like someone who doesn’t like their food to touch, seem to keep from mixing.  That explains why my relative feels so far away from finding a decent guy, and why I was clueless to apparently one of the most popular songs on earth. Sometimes the invisible walls are the thickest.

We are what we hang with

When I was in my early twenties, I was surrounded by many friends and like me, most of them didn’t have any kind of vision for their lives.  We were a crowd that put lots of focus on the here and now, living for the moment.  Most of us were running away from our past in some way. We spent quite a bit of time together and had many social interactions but these friendships were shallow at best.  Friendships (girls and guys) seemed to be temporary and centered around where the next party is.  I had many friends, but meaningful connection was a different story.

The truth is, that I was exactly like the people closest to me, the ones I spent the most time with.  Someone said we are the sum total of our five closest people.  This was certainly true for me. I had a many friends but didn’t really connect with any of them, at least not with any depth. I would go out on the town, have lots of fun, meet more interesting fun people, then go back to my apartment and bask in my loneliness and addictions. There were people all around, but I was all alone. My friends were not interested in connecting with me as a person or helping me grow nor was I with them. We didn’t know how, and were too immature to care or know what it was that we were needing.  We all had our own voids to figure out how to fill.

Where are you looking?

What I know now, that I did not know the first half of my life, is that there are many healthy, happy, connected people out there if you wish to seek them out and find out where they hang.  I am not suggesting that all healthy and happy people are separate from everyone else and part of an exclusive club.  They are all over.  They come in every color and every size.  They are in the stores you shop, walking down the street, eating in the same restaurants that you eat.  You may not recognize them if you don’t know what to look for. If you want to find a bunny, don’t look in a fox hole.

Something missing

Have you ever felt like there was something missing in your life, but you don’t know what it is?  I have asked many people this question in my life and apart from a couple of people I suspect were not honest, everyone has said yes.  Most of the time when I engage in conversation with people about this, it strikes a chord and often leads to a very constructive and insightful conversation.  It seems we all have a void that needs to be filled.

“As people are cut off from others and their souls are starved for connectedness, the need for love turns into an insatiable hunger for something. It can be a substance, sex, food, shopping, or gambling, but these never satisfy, because the real need is the connectedness to God and others, and to God through others.” Henry Cloud – How People Change.

Connectedness

We were created to experience connectedness vertically with our creator and horizontally with people.  It is not until we have connectedness with God that we can truly connect with others on the level we were created for. We also cannot stay connected with God without being connected to other people.  It is through other people who we are supported and upheld. It is other people who push us to grow and to push our limits to reach higher levels. It is through other people that God grows each person.  He sends people to teach you, encourage you, challenge you, discipline you, provide support, advice and direction. This doesn’t happen if you are not connected to people who share these values. We are what we hang with.

Grace is the glue

It is God that gives us the passion and the commitment to extend to others the kind of grace that God extended to us through Jesus Christ.  He forgave us our sins so that we could experience connectedness with him.  Connectedness cannot happen without grace to bridge the gap. Grace is the glue that holds ALL relationships together. You cannot give away what you do not have. Without grace, we all disconnect and go our separate ways. Are you connected?