Leadership Workshops Got Me Like Whoa

You are the author of your life.

You must envision your life, create the design, and make it happen.

You hold all the power.

I couldn’t help but hesitate when I heard those words during a leadership workshop this week. The career coach leading the session explained how we must be the leaders of our own lives. She said we must make moves to achieve our dreams, and we must recognize our power to do whatever we want. That it’s ultimately up to us.

If I’m honest, everything this woman was saying is my default mode. I set goals, I make them happen, and then I keep striving for more. Hell, that’s how I got to New York City in the first place. I landed internships, I networked like mad, and I worked (and worked and worked) until I landed a job and was able to relocate here. I saw myself as a writer and editor in the Big Apple, and I made it happen.

But did I really?

How much of my life is really my own doing, and how much of it is the Lord’s path for me?

This is something I legitimately struggle with. I feel like I need to have a plan. I need to figure it all out. The longer I sat in this leadership workshop, the more my anxiety level went up. Everyone volunteered their visions for the future. They shared what they’re doing to further their careers and to truly make an impact in the workplace.

Shoot, what is my plan? Where am I going with my life? Am I really called to New York City? Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing? What’s next for me?

If I had to guess, I would venture to say that I’m not the only 20-something with these thoughts. In fact, I bet there are 30-somethings, 40-somethings, and soon-to-be retirees going through the exact same thought process. It’s that culturally pervasive do-more, be-more mentality.

The leadership workshop brought up some good points, for sure. It’s important to think about the future and what I desire professionally and personally. I do think I can take a more active role in my job and invest in the work I’m doing. Even if it’s not where I envisioned myself, I can still embrace it and show up giving 100 percent every day. Doing so is a service to my coworkers, my company, and to God.

I have to balance working toward goals with surrendering my will to the Lord’s. I’m still learning how to do this. Because, yes, I want a fulfilling career--but when this career coach asked me precisely what that looks like, I couldn’t quite answer. I’m trying to navigate life one step at a time. I want to do good work and consider my future, yet keep my hands open to what else might come my way.

We are given free will and the opportunity to set goals. We can envision our lives, and I think there’s plenty of goodness that comes with that. I desire a fulfilling career, a thriving blog, and a way to minister to women. I desire a husband and a family. I desire health and happiness, a strong community around me, and an ever-deepening relationship with God. I can envision all of these things.

My tendency is to white-knuckle grip my hopes and dreams. And that's what this workshop made me think, that I need to make my dreams more quantifiable and then make them happen already. Except circumstances can change. When life looks different than I expected, I really struggle. For the first season of my life, I’m not exactly clear where I’m going professionally or what the next step should be. And maybe that’s a really good thing.

Maybe for the first time I’m being forced to surrender, forced to recognize I don’t hold all the cards.

I have often felt like I need to justify my existence and make my life count. For me, this longing usually shows up in the areas of career and relationships. I have this deep-rooted sense that these things will make my life complete. They will allow me to look back on the life I’ve lived with a sense of satisfaction. I need these things.

In the ever-wise words of Tim Keller:

Everybody needs to feel that they’re doing something that justifies them being here. I feel I need to earn my stay. I feel I need to say, ‘Here’s why my life counts. Here’s why my life is worthwhile. Here’s how I get a sense of validity and acceptability.’

If you really really believe what you know in your head about free justification, would you be anxious? Won’t you admit that in many cases your wealth isn’t just your wealth, your beauty isn’t just your beauty, your youth isn’t just your youth, your family isn’t just your family. They’re your righteousness. But now a perfect righteousness is revealed apart from the law of performance. It’s a righteousness that comes to you, and it’s the end of your struggle.

Can I get an amen for free justification by faith?

My life is justified and I'm made righteous by faith alone. That's grace, and that's the most wonderful gift there is. 

We can only control so much. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having desires and visions for the future. In fact, I think God wants us to dream big! The key is to hold those dreams loosely. Because as much as I love gripping the pen in my hand, the author of my life is someone way more powerful and knowledgeable than I am. He’s writing the story, and He promises to make it a darn good one.

Half-Birthdays Make You Think

This week marks my half-birthday. In six months, I'll be 26. I've always loved celebrating birthdays, and I've never had a problem with growing older. But this year I'm feeling a little more anxiety around it.

Twenty-six means I've crossed into my late twenties. Twenty-six means saying goodbye to being a post-grad and hello to being a full-on adult. Twenty-six means I'm old enough to get married and have kids. It means I only sometimes have to buy Ikea furniture and two-buck Chuck. It means I'm investing in a retirement account, while still dealing with the occasional acne. Perhaps most importantly, 26 means I definitely cannot get away with belting out Taylor Swift's "22" anymore.

When did that happen?

Ferris Bueller was right—life moves pretty fast. I think that’s especially so when you live in a high-energy city. But even if you don't, we Millennials thrive on a fast-paced lifestyle. There’s always something to do, some new goal to strive for, a new rung of the ladder to climb.

People ask me all the time how long I see myself living in New York City, what's next for me career-wise, when am I going to meet a man and settle down, etc. etc. etc. I don't have answers to these questions. And if I'm being honest, when I hear such questions I start to think about my age and my lack of answers and get a little scared. I begin to believe the lie that I need to have a fully detailed life plan. That I need to plot out exactly what I want, when I want it, and then I need to go after it. I need to just do it.

So I had to laugh when I re-read a Verily article of mine from January of this year. I wrote about embracing the new year—by doing exactly the opposite of what I now feel like I need to do. Case in point:

"I am excited to embrace the adventure in 2015—not by creating some five-year plan, but by instead enjoying the journey and trusting life will happen exactly as it should."

Oh. Hmm.

Not only did I write that, but I also wrote that if I were to make any new year's resolution, it would be to start a fresh relationship with myself. To take care of myself mind, body, and soul. To allow the adventure of the year ahead to unfold and to accept the mess that comes along with that.

My words from January ring true now more than ever. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t quite know what’s next. I’ve been striving for as long as I can remember. I’m always working toward a new goal or achievement. As a kid, I did everything I could to get straight As on my report card. I practiced every day to make the tennis team and then to win matches and tournaments. I maintained my GPA and tests scores to get into my first-choice college. I studied my butt off to graduate with a double major. I did the internships, the extracurriculars, the part-time jobs. And for a while, I also worked hard on my eating disorder. If you’ve already been following my blog, you know the story: I controlled my eating in an attempt to control my life and to truly “have it all.” Another goal added to the ever-growing list, another part of myself lost.

The cycle played itself out again when I relocated to New York City. I relapsed in my recovery and had to seek help for my eating disorder. Thankfully the Lord has provided health, healing, and a whole lot of refinement since then, and I praise Him for that. 

Yet the striving continued to play itself out in other areas, especially work. I came to the city for work, and I landed my dream job. But it was a temp situation, so I constantly felt like I had to work harder to be brought on in a more permanent capacity. Eventually the promotion came. Later, a new gig with a bigger title, bigger responsibilities, and bigger dreams.

And let’s not forget relationships. Subconsciously I think I wanted to strive there, too. After moving to NYC, I entered into my first serious relationship. Almost two years later it ended, and not long after that I embarked on another.

Even church was a place to strive. I committed to friendships, community group, a women’s group, Bible studies, volunteer work.

Check, check, check.

You see, working toward a goal is easy for me. Setting my mind to something and going after it has never been a problem. I can look at my past and see God's hand in it. I really try to enjoy the present, and I trust in the future kingdom of heaven. It's that nearer future here on earth that is decidedly more difficult for more to embrace. Twenty-six, 27, 28, 29, and (gasp) 30—ten years ago, I thought those ages seemed so, well, old. Now I'm right there. And don't even get me started on all those lists about the 30 things every woman needs to do before age 30. 

Today, at 25.5 years old, I am a single woman working in a steady job, with good friendships and a church community. I have absolutely have no idea when I will meet the right man and get married, or what my next career move will be, or how long I’ll live in New York City. It’s scary to admit that.

But what if I could be fully satisfied in those unknowns? What if I could, as I wrote, enjoy the journey and trust what happens along the way?

Life would probably be a lot more peaceful, and age would truly be nothing but a number.

The Lord gives us free will. We have the ability to make decisions every single day. We make plans and resolutions and goals. We choose how to live our lives, and we have to take an active role in them. At the same time, God knows the plans that He has for us, plans to give us hope and a future. Ultimately, He is the one who directs our steps. 

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
— Proverbs 19:21

I'm so grateful that I can make mistakes, and I can have no idea what is next for me—but I can still trust in the Lord in all of that. I can stand in His will and His goodness.

For the next six months, my goals aren’t to get promoted, to become a greater presence at church, or to land a boyfriend. My goal isn’t even to drive more traffic to this website. My goal instead is to surrender. Surrender my mind, my body, my soul to the one who has knit me since before I was born.

Twenty-six, get at me.