Do you have a hard time saying no when others request something of you? Do you find yourself fearing losing the approval of others even if it means doing what seems to be right thing or saying something that needs to be said, even if it’s difficult? These are the traits of a typical people-pleaser, and I readily recognize them in myself – especially in wanting others to like me and to think well of me. But as Ed Welch explains below in his excellent book When People are Big and God is Small (P&R, 1997), if unaddressed, this can not only can be detrimental to yourself, but it can keep you from truly loving and helping others. I like how he puts it, especially noting how we can deceive ourselves about the goodness of wanting to please others.
“People-pleasers can mistake ‘niceness’ for love. When they do, they will be prone to being manipulated by others, and burn-out is sure to follow. People-pleasers can also mistake ‘yes’ for love. But ‘yes’ might be very unwise. It might not be the best way to repay our debt of love. Saying ‘yes’ to one task might keep us from another that is more important. It might mean that we will do something that someone else could have done better. It might mean that we will entrench the sin patterns of other people. It might mean that we interpret the church egocentrically rather than as a body, thinking, ‘If I don’t do it, nobody will.’
“Therefore ‘yes,’ ‘being nice,’ and ‘self-sacrifice’ are not necessarily the same as love. They can be ways that we establish our own personal meaning and identity more than creative expressions of loving others” (214).
I loved Tim Sanders’s Love is the Killer App (Three Rivers, 2002).
Though I haven’t read many books in business and marketing, this is a book that, though it deals heavily in these fields, transcends those genres: It’s a book which, at a fundamental level, can help you to grow as a person and then teach you how to help others grow as well. What Sanders calls a “lovecat” is essentially a nice, smart person who is generous with his knowledge and network and who is committed to the growth of others.
Sanders says you become a “lovecat” by attending to three things: 1) Knowledge, 2) Network, and 3) Compassion. By “knowledge,” he means you must read a lot, and books above all, so that you are at the top of your field and are equipped to share this knowledge with others. By “network,” he means that not only should you diligently cultivate a professional network, but you should then be diligent about helping people those in your network by sharing your knowledge with them and get busy connecting them with others who can help them. Finally, by “compassion,” he means something that is so simple but which we often neglect in at the workplace, and especially in the world business: Be human. This he defines well, I thought, as fundamentally “being committed to the growth of the other.”
This is one of my favorite things about Sanders’s book: Everything he commends is consistent with biblical principles, and primarily, as the title suggests, the biblical command to love. This is all about putting others first, seeking their good above your own, and then finding your own happiness and success because of that.
I loved how he puts it at the end of his book (meaning these pages are all kinds of dog-eared!):
“If you are a genuine lovecat, you show compassion for people because you like them. You tell others you are committed to their success because you want your contacts to be smarter, more informed, more capable. You arrange meetings between your contacts because you genuinely believe they will like each other, even if you gain nothing from the introduction… When there is no love, there should be no expression of love. Never fake it.”
“… Perhaps the greatest advantage of being compassionate is that… you help your bizmates grow, in both their outward success and their inner lives. And they sense your compassion, they start to develop in the most basic sense… In other words, we love people in order to help them grow in their own ability to love. We want them to enjoy the warmth of love and become more human… So when I engage in bizlove, I’m motivated by the impact it has on others, not just the attitude they will have about me (and whatever gain or popularity that affords me) I’m not a needy lover. I don’t hug you or tell you how much I care about you because I’m lonely. I say and do those things because I want you to experience the same humanity, freedom, and joy that I do. When lovecats help others do that, our job is done” (192-193).
Confirmation bias is what happens when we seek out information which confirms our beliefs. Now, doing this isn’t always bad, and it doesn’t mean that what you believe is wrong, but if you only seek information that confirms what you already believe, or your biases, you risk having a very lopsided perspective on a number of issues. Worse, it becomes harder for you to think critically about these issues and to change your mind when it would be right or intellectually honest for you to do so.
Exposing yourself to a variety of sources not only gives you a more balanced and complete view of something, but it will also help you better understand your beliefs and defend them more ably. I first learned this in college from Father Schall, who in our political philosophy course would quote Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274): “You don’t really know something until you know the reasons against it.” I’m impressed by that quote.
Now, these insights also apply to our social lives and the people we surround ourselves with, as Clay Johnson writes in his excellent The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption (O’Reilly, 2012):
“We all live in our own social bubbles, which we create and empower through our social relationships – and interestingly, new research says that these relationships have profound impacts on us. The friends we select, the communities in which we work, play, and love serve as filters for us. It’s too high of a cognitive and ego burden to surround ourselves with people that we disagree with.
“If you’re a Facebook user, try counting up the number of friends you have who share your political beliefs. Unless you’re working hard to do otherwise, it’s likely that you’ve surrounded yourself with people who skew towards your beliefs. Now look beyond political beliefs – how many of your friends share the same economic class as you?” (60)
In showing us Lincoln at his lowest – in the darkest fits of gloom and depression – and at his best – telling humorous stories to guests, comforting others who are suffering, and achieving great political triumphs – Joshua Wolf Shenk gives us the picture of an integrated life.
He shows us that suffering, even in the form of mental illness, which Lincoln had, need not be the whole story. Indeed, it can be a crucial part of one’s personal growth and maturity into greatness. Lincoln never wished for affliction and surely he must have wished depression away many times during his life. But with the help of others as well as several coping mechanisms, such as reading poetry or telling jokes, he harnessed the monster of depression in a way that strengthened his character, his endurance, and allowed him to rise to the great historical challenges that confronted his presidency. I like how Shenk puts it in some of the last lines of Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness (Mariner, 2006):
“The overarching lesson of Lincoln’s life is one of wholeness. Knowing that confidence, clarity, and joy are possible in life, it is easy to be impatient with fear, doubt, and sadness. If one desires to ‘stir up the world,’ it is easy to be impatient with work for the sake of work. Yet no story’s end can forsake its beginning and its middle. Perhaps in the inspiration of Lincoln’s end we can receive some fortitude and instruction about all that it took for him to get there…The hope is not that suffering will go away, for with Lincoln it did not ever go away. The hope is that suffering, plainly acknowledged and endured, can fit us for the surprising challenges that await” (215-216). (Emphasis mine.)
My last post on Joshua Wolf Shenk’s book, Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness (Mariner, 2006), offered a brief preview of how Lincoln embodied mental illness and mental wellness (and even greatness) at the same time.
To best appreciate Lincoln’s greatness – his strength of character and mental fortitude – it helps to see him at his darkest, most desperate moments – in the valley of depression. This is the picture I want to offer here.
Lincoln once confided about his depression to a colleague, a fellow politician, who didn’t suspect that he suffered from depression. This man recalled, “He told me that he was so overcome with mental depression, that he never dare carry a knife in his pocket” (23).
His second episode of major depression was triggered by a “long period of intense work,” “profound personal stress,” and “a stretch of bleak weather.” He “spoke openly about his misery, hopelessness, and thoughts of suicide. He was unable to work. His friends feared that he might kill himself, and that if he lived, he might go insane” (23).
“By the time he was in his early thirties, he faced a lifetime of depression…The acute fits of his young manhood gave way to less histrionic, but more pervasive, spells of deep gloom. Dramatic public avowals of his misery gave way to a private but persistent effort to endure and transcend his suffering. Yet the suffering did not go away…And even when he began to do the work for which he is remembered…he continued to suffer” (23).
These passages describe a turbulent, and pitiable, emotional and mental state. Because of these episodes and his behaviors, some even thought Lincoln was crazy. Yet at this very point, it is worth remembering that this man, who couldn’t carry a knife from fear of hurting himself and at times believed that he would go insane, went on to become president of the United States and steer this nation through the Civil War and take the first major step toward freeing the nation’s slaves.
Lincoln not only carried the enormous burden of leading the Union through the Civil War, he carried the personal burden of clinical depression. He experienced his first severe episode in his 20s, and from then suffered through a “lifetime of depression.”
Many people don’t know this about Lincoln, whose strength of character and ability to cope with adversity commanded the respect of his contemporaries and continues to capture the attention of historical observers. In Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness (Mariner, 2006), Joshua Wolf Shenk shows us Lincoln’s experience of depression and argues that his response to this suffering was one of the roots of his greatness. (This book was one of my top reads of 2013, which you can see here.)
Read this and see how it might challenge your view of terms such as “mental illness,” “success” and “healthy”:
“Can we say that Lincoln was ‘mentally ill’? Without question, he meets the U.S. surgeon general’s definition of mental illness, since he experienced ‘alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior’ that were associated with ‘distress and/or impaired functioning.’ Yet Lincoln also meets the surgeon general’s criteria for mental health: ‘the successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive facilities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity.’ By this standard, few historical figures led such a healthy life” (25).
Indeed. Few historical figures led such a healthy life.
Happy birthday, Mr. President.
This is a guest post by my wife, who is a much faster reader than me.
I first discovered Meg Jay when I was on kick watching TED talks. I found her talk, “Why 30 is not the new 20,” (see video below!), so engaging and clearly stated that my husband bought me her book for Christmas so that I could keep digging into the topic of the importance of your twenties.
As a twentysomething, I was interested to learn what’s so special about this decade of my life. The quotes below from Meg Jay’s book, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter – and How to Make the Most of Them Now (Twelve, 2013), are a sampling of her answer to my question “what’s so special about your twenties anyway?”. It turns out: A LOT!
- “Eighty percent of life’s most defining moments take place by age thirty-five” (xiv).
- “A colleague of mine likes to say that twentysomethings are like airplanes, planes just leaving New York City bound for somewhere west. Right after takeoff, a slight change in course is the difference between landing in either Seattle or San Diego. But once a plan is nearly in San Diego, only a big detour will redirect it to the northwest” (xxx).
- “’Not making choices isn’t safe. The consequences are just further away in time, like in your thirties or forties’” (40).
- “As a twentysomething, life is still more about potential than proof” (62).
- “By the time we reach our twenties, the brain has gotten as big as it’s going to be, but it is still refining its network of connections” (139).
- “Twentysomething plans help us think across the years and decades ahead” (141).
- “’Inaction breeds fear and doubt. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.’-Dale Carnegie, writer and lecturer” (156).
- “We now know that, of any time in life, our twenties are our best chance for change” (166).
- “Feeling better doesn’t come from avoiding adulthood, it comes from investing in adulthood” (170).
- “Compared to their twentysomething selves, women are about half as fertile at thirty, about one-quarter as fertile at thirty-five, and about one-eighth as fertile at forty” (180).
- “’There is a big difference between having a life in your thirties and starting a life in your thirties’” (194).
Our twenties matter. The decisions of what job to take, what career field to enter and work to get into, and whether or not to pursue an advanced degree (and if so in what and where), matter. Who you date (or don’t date) matters because it can affect who you end up marrying and choosing to partner in life with. Meg Jay covers these professional and personal aspects of life well in the sections “Work” and “Love” of her book. She stresses how decisions made (or not made) in your twentysomethings significantly affect the trajectory of your life. She also presents very compelling biological information about how, physically, our twenties are a unique time in her section “The Brain and the Body.”
I loved The Defining Decade. If you’re in your twenties or have a loved one in their twenties, you should definitely read this book! It’s inspiring and motivating. I think Meg Jay would agree that her book is a call to action written for twentysomethings encouraging us to not put things off for later but really seize our twenties.