Monday, April 25, 2011

finding balance

This week I decided to go with a really practical read, Women, Work, and the Art of Savoir Faire by Mireille Guiliano, a book written by an extremely successful French/American businesswoman about business sense and sensibility. The author is the former CEO of Clicquot, Inc., the American division of Veuve Clicquot Champagne, a brand she basically defined and grew from something like 1 percent to 25 percent of the market share (don’t quote me on that). 

What I loved about the book was that it mixes business advice with life advice, providing helpful stories and anecdotes along the way. Her writing is so feminine, and so French, so naturally I loved it! She touches on everything, from interview etiquette to what not to wear, gendered differences in communication to networking, to recipes for dinner parties and how to define success. While most books about business or leadership tend to focus solely on the business world, Guiliano seems to recognize, in true French fashion, that work is not everything, and that there are a countless number of things that all play in to leading a balanced and successful life. 

I’ve probably talked about this before, but one of the greatest things I learned during my semester in Paris was work-life balance. The French language consists of all sorts of beautiful words, but one that I particularly fell in love with living in Paris was the verb profiter. It literally means to take advantage of, but the French use it much more loosely, mainly meaning to make the most of each opportunity. Make the most of a beautiful sunny day, of a park full of people, of the chance to travel, of a great work venture, of a relationship, of whatever. There’s a reason the French work a 35-hour work week and take 6 weeks of vacation a year, and it’s not because they’re lazy. Instead, it’s because they want to make the most of the most beautiful months of the year, because they want to spend time with their families, and because they want to go to work rejuvenated and ready to start the day. During the months I spent abroad, I learned that a good life is not made up solely of work or of play, but a healthy combination of the two. If one side gets off balance, the other really suffers. For example, if I don’t take a night off during the week or weekend I’ll be much less productive overall. This is one of those things I have to remind myself of time and again, because it’s easy (especially in college) to get in the mindset that work and accomplishments and good grades and promotions are the only things that matter, but that’s not at all the case.

What the author of this book stresses is having anchors. She tells the story of going to an outdoor market, where each vendor has a tend with four support legs that all need to be evenly tied down and anchored, because if one leg is off balance the whole tent can collapse on top of customers, goods and produce strewn everywhere.  These tents in mind, she names four support legs that it takes to find a good work-life balance: 

        1) Good health.
        2) A functional network of friends and family.
        3) A solid employment situation.
        4) Time, space, principles, and policies for yourself.
Sometimes, we don’t have all four of these together, and the beauty of having anchors is that some of the stronger ones can compensate for weaker ones. It doesn’t mean those times won’t be stressful, but having other anchors in tact can lighten the load, so to speak. For me, I’m blessed to have #1,2, and 4 covered, so even as #3 is not so certain, I can still feel quite balanced and under control! During this week, I’m going to remember how important those anchors are, and how important it is to profiter, especially during my last ‘real’ week of college!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

now what?

Over the past two weeks I’ve been mulling over a book I received four years ago upon my graduation from High School. The book, Now What? by John Ortberg, is full of little tidbits of wisdom and guidance for graduates. I hadn’t looked at the book in years, but spotted its small spine on my shelf, and when it was made clear that I wouldn’t be finishing Wuthering Heights anytime soon, I pulled it down and started to flip through its pages. 
What I found was that even though I read this book four years ago, I stand today at an even larger crossroads in life, and I needed to hear the words of this book now more than ever before. As I read, certain thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, and questions came back to me from high school, but mostly I was flooded by all these new questions. Things that stuck out to me four years ago were not necessarily the same words jumping off the page at me today. In short, I’m the same, but I’m different, too, and these last four years have provided me with new things to think of and care about as I try to make my way in the world. I may still be asking the same 'now what?' question, but the place where I stand is very different. Here are a few of the points made in the book that particularly stuck out to me:

1) Start each day with God.
“For Christians, the beginning of the day should not be haunted by the various kinds of concerns they face during the day. The Lord stands above the new day, for God has made it. All restlessness, all impurity, all worry and anxiety flee before him. Therefore, in the early morning hours of the day, may our many thoughts and our many idle words be silent, and may the first word and the first thought belong to the one whom our whole life belongs.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I’ve been trying to do this lately, to wake up and think of God, and to take five or ten minutes together with God and my morning coffee to reflect and pray towards the day. This is just another reminder how important that really is, and how, if our whole life belongs to God, starting with God is so fitting and right it can change the outcome of our day.

2) Pray for people and cultivate friendships.
“People who give themselves to relational greatness - people who have deep friends whom they laugh with and cry with, with whom they learn together, with whom they fight and forgive, with whom they dance and grow and live and die - these are the human beings who lead magnificent lives, whether or not they are ever noted in society. And when they die, not one of them regrets having devoted themselves to people - to their friends, to their children, to their family - not one.” - John Ortberg
So, so important for me to remember right now. Lately I’ve been letting the stress of life get me down, and in those moments I spend with friends and family I’ve been forgetting to put my stress aside and have instead been ranting and unloading at them. I realized on Friday night, as I thought back on the week and towards the weekend, how negative I’d been and how little I’d shown care, concern, and love for the people around me. Ortberg reminds me that people who live magnificent lives don’t just fill life with to-do lists, meetings, and assignments, but with beautiful people. I’m so blessed by the people in my life, blessed beyond words, but now I need to remember, even when things get busy and stressful, to be a blessing to them as well. 

3) Practice joy actively.
“Be joyful always.” 1 Thess. 5:16
Joy used to be my thing. Back in the dreary January of my freshman year at Hope, I realized acutely that I wasn’t being joyful, and this verse from Thessalonians became my bread and butter. I resolved to practice joy actively, and it worked. It changed who I was, and who I would become. Sometimes, though, I forget to be a joy-bringer, and I was reminded once again how important it is to be joyful in all things. Even though this is a tough time of life, it is also one chock-full of joy: springtime green, daffodils blooming, Easter on its way, the accumulation of four beautiful years, the celebration of friendships and achievements, and a new stage of life just ready to take flight. 
4) Think excellent thoughts. 
“Research has shown that one’s thought life influences one’s being. Kind people are simply the type of people who habitually tend to think kind thoughts. Angry people are simply the kind of people who habitually tend to think thoughts that breed resentment and hostility.” Archibald D. Hart
This is so true! What we think, we eventually become, and we take our thoughts into our words, our actions, and our interactions. I came across this great little design on a blog I follow,, a little while back, and saved it to my computer. I pulled it back out today when I was thinking about thinking excellent thoughts, and thought I’d share it with you. The blog is great, you should check it out!
Well, that’s more than enough from me today! Be full of joy, my friends! We have so much to celebrate.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

scouting the divine

So as I mentioned last week, this week’s read, Scouting the Divine by Margaret Feinberg, is about a woman who decides to look more closely at the agrarian themes of the Bible. She visits a shepherdess, a farmer, a beekeeper, and a vintner to better understand some of the most common references to the earth in the bible: sheep, wheat, honey, and wine. Key to so many conversations about the Bible is this idea that the book was written in a specific historical and political context, yet this author realizes too the importance of the agrarian context of the Bible. Feinberg decides that the best way for her to truly understand the hundreds of passages that talk about agriculture and food in the Bible is to talk with people whose daily realities center around a particular crop, prompting the visits that inspire this book. 
It’s a really quick read, but well worth it. Feinberg digs deep into God’s promise of a land of milk and honey, into Jesus’ call that he is the vine, and we are the branches, into the meaning of first-fruits and gleaning, and into the devoted heart of a shepherd for his sheep. But in addition to these important scriptural insights, Feinberg’s musings also got me thinking about God’s role in my life from a completely different angle. I often think of the ever-discussed “Will of God” as something far out there, that generally guides what I say, do, and believe, but not as something that is not necessarily involved in the minutiae of the everyday. But what the author points out in her time spent with the sheep, hives, and rows of corn and vines, is that God is a God who pays attention to the minutest of details. She points out: “Some people excel at seeing the big picture and identifying overarching themes and goals. Others specialize in the particulars--the fine-tuning of systems and functions. But God is not like us. He specializes in everything from pollen patters to distant galaxies. God knows when a bee doesn’t make it back to its hive. He numbers the wing beats it takes to create a single drop of honey.”
I believe in a God with the power and omnipotence to measure the wing beats of a honey bee, but sometimes I forget that this is the same God that watches over my life. God watches over every little step I take as well as encourages me to take giant leaps. God is a God who pays attention to the big and small parts of my life. So when my life is so crazy that I can barely keep up with the little things like making it to class, going to the grocery store, washing my clothes or sending a few emails, I’m so reassured to know that God is there, in the big and the small, whether I see God’s presence or not. 
I was reminded again tonight, sitting at one of the last Gatherings of my college career,  what a crux I’m at in my life: I’ve got one month left. Everything I know to be true tonight won’t be the same in a few weeks and months, and that’s scary. Part of me wants to only think about the big picture: jobs, living arrangements, money, goals, dreams, and vocation, while another part of me wants to only think about really living out the last few weeks of college: going to every concert, coffee date, night out, class, and event in lieu of sleeping and homework. It’s hard to find balance in the midst of all of that, but I’m reminded that God is with me in all things, the big and the small, and I can take comfort in that. Hopefully wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whatever you believe in, you take comfort in the fact that God is with you, too. 
A few weeks ago, I came across a used copy of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights in one of my favorite bookstores, Schulers. I’ve been meaning to read more classics, and this one doesn’t look too intimidating, so I think that I’ll take a break from some of the heavier stuff I’ve been reading lately and dive into what’s sure to be a great, classic tale!