I don’t know…can you?

Remember Uncle Ben?  From Spiderman?  “Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.” There’s big wisdom in those words.  I would also suggest — with great freedom comes great responsibility.

Uncle Ben from Spiderman movie, 2002

(Photo: Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben and Tobey Maguire as Peter Park in Spider-Man (2002) found at http://markdroberts.com/?p=463)

One of the qualities that I cherish about the Christian life is the quality of freedom.  God has created us in His image, yet He has created us all uniquely — and along with that, He has created us each with our own minds and thoughts — freedom.  When God sent His son to die for our sins, He gave us — freedom.  When we choose to accept Christ as our Lord and savior, we have the freedom to turn our backs on the sins of our past and live a totally abundant life — overflowing with goodness we never imagined.  Sadly, we also have the freedom to turn our backs on God and live life as we please — but that’s a whole other post.  I’m a huge fan of having my own mind.  I’m a huge fan of freedom — of all kinds.  That being said, I realize that with freedom comes a balance of using my freedom responsibly, as well as respecting the freedom of others.  I also realize that too much freedom isn’t always a good thing.

I am a being that requires boundaries.  I need structure.  Parents set boundaries for and discipline their children out of love, but also as a necessity — much as we don’t like to admit it — we crave limits.  I know this logically in my brain, yet sometimes living out a life with boundaries, a life that balances responsibility with freedom is one of those “easier said than done”.

William Bridges in Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes recommends that in times of life upheaval we do our best to build temporary structures.  Read: when your life has seemingly been turned upside down, create some anchors that can help you hang on.  He writes…

When we had our house remodeled a few years ago, we tolerated for several weeks a living room wall made of plastic and canvas.  That temporary construction was ugly, but it provided us with the protection we needed to go on living in a space that was being transformed.  So it is with transitional situations in love and work:  you will need to work out ways of going on while the inner work is being done.  This may involve getting a temporary job while you look for a real job; it may involve agreements at home or at work to carry on in some modified fashion until something more permanent can be devised; or it may simply involve an inner resolve to accept a given situation as temporary and to transfer some energy to the job of finding a replacement for it.

So what do these temporary structures look like in our lives?  For me, it has meant routine.  As my husband will sometimes say in amusement, “you go through phases” — and he’s right.  My routine and schedule has gone through many iterations throughout these past 12 months — I have had periods of focusing more on physical activity, of regular reflective writing, of cooking one recipe after another, of learning all things WordPress, of feasting on my “to read” stacks, of chatting it up with friends over breakfast or tea or flavored steamers…much like Elizabeth Gilbert — in many of my own private “Italy-s”.

Shifts in the routine have mostly been a product of my own whims, but then there have been those grand “mean-life” changes that have required new and different times of rebuilding.  Since late spring I have found that more than a change in structure or routine, I have been without structure or routine.  In many ways, life turned me upside down, all around, and then some that I found myself in more of a free-for-all.  The result: I have felt unfulfilled, purpose-less, and yearning to again do the things I love.  Part of this routine-less time was a necessary element in grieving and healing, but as I have slowly come out of it, I realize that I am again in need of creating structure.

Time to remodel.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) I don’t have cool before and after photos to document the changes in my “inner life”, but I do experience growth in character, greater strength, and the affirmed confidence that I’ve “been there; done that” and can therefore reach into my remodeling toolbox to start building all over again.

As I was thinking about structure, freedom, responsibility I was reminded of a time working with high school students in Central Washington during the summers.  I had the hybrid joy and challenge of working with students who had little access to social capital (i.e. those mentors and positive role models in life helping them get a “hook up” with education), few resources to support a healthy and well-rounded education, and many were carrying way too many burdens for their young teenage years.  Five days a week I lived with and mentored these amazing individuals in the dorms of a community college campus.  By day the students had the opportunity to catch up on missed high school credits, or gain extra credits to get ahead, and by night they participated in cultural events to preserve their heritage (many were Latino, Native American, and African American), and participated in learning discussions.  In these dorms we kept a strict schedule, especially when it came to light’s out.  I remember standing in the hallways (I on the ladies’ side) minutes before the call for lights out, watching these young women scramble to get final notes from friends, brush their teeth, or make the last trip to the restroom.  One young woman came to me with wide eyes, “How many minutes until light’s out?”  “Three.” “Do I have time to use the bathroom?”  ” I don’t know…do you?” Although it may sound as though I was being facetious, that was not my intent.  Instead, I was working to help her understand that it was not I who had the power or control to say whether or not she could use the restroom in three minutes — it was up to her — to learn her boundaries and responsibilities — knowing she had three minutes left, knowing herself and her needs — could she make it in three minutes (I should note that we dialogued about this, but the next day — I didn’t want to take away any of her three minutes)?  A small lesson, but one of many in which I hoped to let these teenagers know that they had great freedom, but also great responsibility.

So, now, as I think about rebuilding temporary structure in my life, I reflect on all the things I want to do (time in prayer, time in God’s word, physical exercise, creating interesting and healthy yummies to eat, stretching my cardmaking and jewelry-making skills, spending quality time with loved ones, finding fulfilling and fruitful work).  Each new day is exciting — lots of time, potential to do almost anything, but I often get overwhelmed and then find myself at the end of the day feeling like I did none of it.  So, first I start with the easy stuff — collect the trash on Mondays, put the bins down Wednesday, bring them up Thursday; check the mail; doctor appointments, etc.  I write lists for myself of the things I want to do, focusing on items that are time-sensitive.  Then I have to ask myself, “Can I do it all?” and then hear my mind’s voice reply, “I don’t know…can you?”  There’s not time in the day to do it all, every day.  However, with the right kind of balance, I can have tastes (and sometimes indulgences) of all those things I love, as well as more of what I am responsible and committed to do — it’s all a matter of building structure and striking a balance.  And if there are a few phases here and there, I won’t complain.

How do you build structure for yourself?  What are your anchors when life turns you topsy turvy?  How do you balance absolute freedom with responsibility?

Thank you for applying

I remember back in the day (and my days don’t even go that far back) in the world of job hunting, one would scour the want-ads, agencies, and weekly publications for potential jobs.  Then after spending due time updating, revising, and reordering the resumé, construct the best sales pitch of themselves, and print the final products on quality-grade resumé paper before snail-mailing off the documents in letter-sized envelopes.  Within a week to two weeks one could expect a response from prospective HR departments, confirming receipt of the documents, and giving a general picture of the hiring process.  After, say, another month, one might then receive an invitation to interview, or receive a discouraging letter containing some sort of “thanks for applying, but we’ve selected another candidate”.  Although those letters were never fun to receive, something unexpected was also contained within the paper walls of the envelope — closure.  The knowledge that either a door had been opened along with an invitation to step inside, or the confirmation that the door had been closed, and the push to continue searching.  Nowadays, with the presence of technology (among other factors), the job-hunting process has changed.

One can still scour for job openings, but instead of having to “pound the pavement” and make the rounds to prospective companies, or travel from one free employment circular dispenser to another, one can now surf the employment opportunities worldwide with a computer, Internet connection, the right sites, and dedication of time.  The process still requires a resumé that captures attention and properly sells the candidate; cover letters still need to be constructed just so, however, in addition to printing them out on textured papers and mailing them off, job hunters now also have the option of sending their documents almost-instantaneously to HR representatives by email.  In addition, many organizations also have online applications which require the near-recreation of one’s resumé, however, with more detail.  Now it’s in the steps after applications have been submitted where I have experienced the most changes in the process.

For the most part, after I have thrown my hat in the ring, whether electronically or by post, I will receive some sort of “we have received your application” email from HR departments.  I appreciate this message at least to know that my documents have not gotten lost in some sort of unemployment black hole.  The content of the message might vary to include a general idea of the process, or even to provide a timeline for the particular position in question, but for the most part it will at least thank me for applying, and let me know that I will be contacted if I am being considered, but to otherwise refrain from following up with the HR department.  In rare cases, I will later receive a follow-up communication thanking me for applying and letting me know that the position has been filled.  Sometimes I get these within a couple months of applying, but I have had cases where I receive this closure as late as six to eight months after submitting my documents.

I have to say, I really miss the concrete fork in the process of “sorry, but the position has been filled” or “we’d like to schedule an interview with you”.  With the many advances we have in technology, it seems like one could create an email list and send off a mass communiqué updating applicants on the successful filling of a position.  For those HR offices that find themselves swamped with applicants, and consider the idea of sending out mass emails to bring closure to applicants as an undue burden, they could also try another approach.  I have come across some institutions which regularly (on a weekly or semi-monthly basis) update and publish their list of open positions with job search notations — open until filled, reviewing applications, interviewing, closed, etc.  This puts the responsibility back on interested job searchers to go back and visit the organization’s site if they want to know how the search is going, but also provides the most-powerful gift of closure.  Ironically, for me, this closure not only closes the door, but also helps provide the fuel for me to continue.  Without the communication, one way or another, it can often feel discouraging to go through the process yet again with no apparent results.  Now, logically, in my head, and also in my heart of hearts I open up the files, and go through the process one step at a time — over and over again, because I am filled with the hope and belief that it will eventually pay off.

So, to those who have impact and influence in your organizations, check in with your HR folks — let them know how valuable those few keystrokes can be to bring hope or closure to applicants.  And to my fellow unemployed, I hope that you, too, can sustain a sense of hope, and if you don’t hear it from potential employers, hear it from me — Thank You for applying.  Keep it up.  I believe it will pay off.