Sunday, June 08, 2008

Questions of Passion, Purpose, and Personality

Meet My Friend…

Every time I’ve interacted with people from our organization’s headquarters I’ve been blessed to spend time with D. I really like D. and enjoy spending time with her, but I also tend to come away from our conversations with something good to chew on. One story she told a couple of us yesterday is a good case in point.

D. worked for seven years in a literacy program in Southeast Asia, but she discovered early on that she didn’t really care for that kind of work and wasn’t very good at it. She just didn’t have a passion for it. Yet she had a strong conviction that she was supposed to be there and was committed to stay until she felt a sense that she was released and called into the next thing. Seven years is a long time, but she managed to sincerely bless and serve her team and their ministry. Nobody even knew she didn’t like the work itself. She didn’t think there was any point in mentioning it, didn’t think they needed to know that. Strange, huh? Well, the last four of it she was in a role that was much more along the lines of what she had realized she DID have a passion for, so that must have helped.

Although she is currently in a role in which she is quite satisfied and effective, I didn’t hear any regret in her story about the years when that was not so much the case. Hmmm.

There are some things I’m not crazy about in my work environment. It is not what I want it to be, nor, I think, what it should be. But the actual work? LOVE IT. So how am I going to deal with that, to keep the tough stuff from draining the life out of me? I feel like I’m doing pretty well right now, but I’m not sure I’ve found the perspective or coping strategies that will keep me content even if the things that bug me do not change. I want to continue to explore that. That makes more sense to me, at this point, to stay, rather than sacrificing the work I love and am good at for something I care about less in a better work environment.

Staying Positive

But, I take that restless spirit with me wherever I go and it’s probably not generally a blessing for those who are around me! One thing I’ve been concerned about in spending this week assisting with our agency’s summer mission program (the Edge) is that I wouldn’t be able to keep a good attitude about things.

I’d probably better explain that a bit. While the Edge program works quite well to accomplish its goals using appropriate strategies [to give participants a taste of what it would be like to join the agency and/or do the same kind of stuff, by giving them a chance to hang out with, come alongside of, and serve the field workers].

But those priorities and that program design are a bit alien to me, and may not be sufficient for meeting the needs of the two particular teams we’re working together to field this summer.

Basically, since most of the teams are going into quite different situations, these guys weren’t recruited, screened, assigned, and prepared according with the grid that experience has shown is most effective for teams doing the kind of work they are going to do [sociological field work, through cultural immersion, participant observation, and ethnographic interviewing].

That doesn’t mean they won’t be able to do it. It just makes me nervous. I feel pressure to know how to equip them in the limited time we have. There are so many things stacked against them. There are also many factors working in their favor. So, I need to focus on the positive stuff.

I know my tendency to evaluate and think critically about things – often on the basis of insight and experience, but just as often based on ignorance or false conclusions – might get in the way. It might trip up or offend others around me. So, I want to make sure that especially for this week, I stay willing to put aside negative thinking and judgment. I want to dwell on or speak only what is helpful for building others up. It’s easy to say, a bit harder to do.

The line between critical thinking (a gift and skill) and sowing discouragement (um, a sin) can be hard to see. No doubt I cross it more often than I know. But I guess what I should aim for, as a critical thinker, is to be a constructive problem-solver. A troubleshooter who doesn’t just say, “Look everybody, don’t you see we’re in trouble?!” but who can work calmly to minimize the effects of that trouble.

I think of Caleb, in the biblical story we’ve often used to frame this kind of work. He knew the effect of his words and attitudes, the importance of following God wholeheartedly and not focusing on the ‘giants in the land,’ etc. He gave a ‘good report.’ Forty years after his team came back from exploring Canaan he reminded the leaders, “I brought back a report according to my convictions, but my brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people sink. I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.” (Joshua 14:7-8)

Passion and Purpose

I realized, in listening to D., that there is another reason why I might struggle with this. I just don’t have passion either for working with college students, or for short-term missions as a whole – even though some of the things I do really care about involve college students (and others) and short-term projects (as well as other kinds). And Edge is a program to send college students on short-term mission trips. So, perhaps it’s natural that I’m less excited about some of what is going on this week than others might be.

Perhaps, like D., I can find a healthy way to keep that mostly to myself. At least I can contain my low level of excitement about (some of!) what this program is about and not let it turn into apathy, disengagement, resentment, or hostility. And I need to make sure I notice and affirm the stuff they're doing well, which is a lot.

The other strategy that seems helpful is to focus on the aspects and angles that do stir and inspire me about what it is that we’re doing. What am I excited about? Among the answers are that I’m excited about seeing people everywhere – of whatever age and position – tapping into the gifts they already have, and developing new skills, as cultural learners. I’m excited to see people open their eyes and become curious about the world and the people in it. I want everyone to be able to look at the world through someone else’s eyes. I’m excited about teaching and facilitating people in that process. And I’m excited about the places and people we’re going to this year – not just the two teams I’m here to love and serve but many of the other as well. In many cases, these guys will have the opportunity to build relationships with people who feel marginalized and unheard. That is the kind of thing that can change the world, on so many levels.

A Matter of Personality / Temperament?

I am amazed how few of the folks leading the 20 or so teams we’ll be training this week know anything about the places and people they will be going to. (And that's just the leaders; team members arrive today). This seems like a huge red flag, but maybe it isn't. Well, for the two teams doing anthropology, this is definitely an issue. If they aren’t curious and interested in learning about the cultures now, if they don’t have that drive to explore and find out, they need to get more that way by the time they arrive in their host cities. Cultural learning is not just a good way to be nice to people and an antidote to culture shock, it’s the reason we’re sending them out.

For the other teams it might be a bit different. Most are going into situations where they will be working alongside long-term workers; it's more important for them to be biddable than curious. They all say they are excited! They are all thrilled to see what God does this summer! They have all rearranged their lives and raised thousands of dollars to serve! Why have none of them cracked open a book about or even Googled the cities they are going to, or learned to say hello in the appropriate language? It's astounding to me.

Well, how much of this is a matter of personality? We spent a good chunk of the afternoon yesterday going through a Myers-Briggs assessment. The group we’ve got is a fair mix of introverts and extroverts, with a lot of S's and some N's, but lean heavily toward F/J – which perhaps indicates friendly people who will do what they are told, not necessarily motivated to go beyond that in terms of learning or analyzing things. (Not a single one of the 100 team members who completed the survey was my personality type, ENTP.) It’s up to me to choose how I’m going to respond to people who are different than I am. May I have the wisdom to see their strengths and gifts and not berate or dismiss them for their inabilities, inexperience, or blind spots.

So far, I'll tell you, I really like these people - both the staff and the "students." And I’m in “committed to like and serve you, no matter what” mode, too. So, I’m not going to write anyone off. There’s still a danger that I’ll discourage or offend them though. So, you know how to pray. Yeah, for one thing, pray for your silly friend Marti to see and put aside her arrogance (and insecurities?) when they come creeping in!


Shane said...

Hey Miss Marti,

Greetings. Insightful post. Hey, have you ever heard/read about the Six Thinking Hats? It might be a nice grid through which to view the members of groups like the ones you're currently training.

Remember, like I said before: You rock at this training.

One last thing: is live. Visit when you can.


Megan Noel said...

i am an INFJ. with strong I and F and slight N and J. actually I suspect in reality my N is stronger than the rest indicated -- in that N is usually the basis of my choices and decisions in the long run. we are rather different huh? i think there are a lot of introverts in the field of registration -- in fact i would think anyone who stays in that field is an introvert. we were discussing it at work the other day.