As a 47 year old, I don't have as many of those as I once did. One year ago we came home after serving eight years in Mongolia. The pain and confusion which coupled that move, while something I don't care to go through again, was also useful in clearing the head and the heart.
Don't get me wrong. I still don't know what I aspire to. Whatever my aspirations may be, however they are forming in the swirl that is our life now. I know they've become simpler. Less grand. Less "save the world" and more "watch and listen more carefully".
Sometimes it's easer for me to think in terms of the negative. Not sure why. Trying to think of the things I do aspire to is difficult, shadowy and vague. However, I can get quite specific about the things I do not aspire to be.
There are certain things which have become cultural normatives, and I want nothing more than to run the other way like I'm being chased by hyenas; things I want no part of. I have here a list of three which I've been thinking more about recently. I'm suspicious that this list will grow. Sometimes it seems that age, circumstances and the Holy Spirit are all working together to narrow focus, like a swift sharp beam of light that cuts the crap and brings simple clarity. At least that is what I am finding that I value most in these days.
So here it is. My list of three non-aspirations.
I do not aspire to:
1. Wear busy-ness as a badge of honor.
In Mongolia, old men and women will often pin medals they've received on their traditional Mongolian clothing (called a "deel)" and wear them proudly, particularly during the traditional holidays.
I've talked about this in other places, but we often wear our busy-ness around like a medal on a Mongolian old man and I believe this to be the bane of our society, not a badge or a crown. I'm working hard to never talk about my life in terms of the quantity of my activity or how many hours I've been working a day or how little sleep I'm running on. In fact, I've determined that when I am tempted to share my life in terms of busy-ness, that I'm going to say this instead: "I have a lot going on right now, and I'm not managing my time well," which is more than likely to be the truth. If I have time for eight hours of sleep, a walk in the morning, a date with my wife, a coffee with kids - that's a sign that I'm doing something correctly. That's not laziness. I'm getting lazy when I don't have the time, attention or energy for the things that are actually important.
2. Become good at multi-tasking
This kind of relates to #1. We are so busy that we think we must become good at multi-tasking, so that more can be accomplished. There's been a lot of well-circulated research which proves that multi-tasking is a myth. That said, we try to do it anyway. We live in the most distracted culture that's ever existed. The dopamine rush from checking phone notifications and status updates is an epidemic addiction. No culture or generation is immune. We like to pick on millennials for spending too much time on their smart phone, yet I sit here writing this article and see mid-lifers and senior citizens alike ignoring the company they're with, transfixed on their smart phones. No one is immune. I was recently driving through Atlanta and noticed at least 5 people in as many miles texting while driving on I285 (apparently there are many people in Atlanta with a death wish).
But it's a bigger issue for me than iPhone addiction. It's about being fully present in the moment. Right now. I want to get better at that. I want to be, not do. I want to write this article or take a photograph. I want to engage in a conversation without the need to check on buzzing and beeping and dinging. I was in a meeting recently with a person who had his phone out on the table for constant inspection of every vibration. On most days, I would have been simply annoyed. On this day, it made me sad. It also made me determined: I don't want to be good at multitasking. Don't want to even try. I want to be good at being fully present. I want to be good at giving time and attention to the exact thing - person - task - moment that I want to give time and attention to. No smart phone, no matter how awesome it may be (and I am fairly impressed with my iPhone 6), is worth that. I take a walk every morning for the sake of prayer and awareness. I want feel the sunrise and the presence of the Creator, to notice thistle and salamanders. To be.
3. Lead from the front
All of my working life I've had a position of leadership. Pastor. Elder. Senior Pastor. Church planter. Missionary. Whatever. I've had some position that has intrinsic leadership elements involved. Over the past year I've embraced a position that does not. There's no one who works for me. I don't lead a congregation. I'm not in a position that screams "leadership". And I don't care.
I did care. At first. The first months of this year were actually uncomfortable in that regard. I felt like I should be doing something "leader-y". It was odd to the point of awkward to come to church, worship ... and leave. Just like everyone else. I haven't done that on a consistent basis for over 20 years. Here's where my entire leadership paradigm is shifting. Leaders do not have to lead from the front. The church we attend doesn't have an "upfront leader". My position at work is not about rank and file leadership. But that's a narrow view of leadership, anyway.
Leadership is about influence. But influence doesn't need a position. Influence is about quietly working with a young man who is recovering from addiction. It's about encouraging a person who has been called to an up-front leadership position. It's about assisting a young guy who is new to shepherding. It's about helping church leaders to engage in global work that's bigger than a leadership position; bigger that their church; bigger than any of us. It's about being present with my family. Loving my wife well.
All which can be done without a position. In fact, it's better done without a position. I've entered a new understanding of leadership this year, and honestly don't want to go back. I no longer desire or need a position of leadership in order to lead. Like real-life shepherding, it's more effective not to lead from the front. Quiet, subversive leadership from the back is more the place I now want to live.
These are my three non-aspirations. I'm fairly certain this will be a running list.
What about you? Do you have anything you do not aspire to become? Leave your feedback in the comments. I'd be interested in hearing from you.