plate spinning

i started a year-long “leadership coaching program” with john townsend the other day. there are 10 people on the team, and we’ll meet one day each month, for 12 months. seems like a killer program. the other 9 people in my group are all leaders in a wide variety of roles, from small business owners to a school administrator to an asst to a senator. half women and half men. 30-ish to 60-ish in age.

the group had a high level of transparency and authenticity from the get-go. it’s obvious people are wanting to take full advantage of this program, and don’t see any reason to spend their time and money on positioning. so there were lots of tears, lots of pain, and very deep sharing for a group of strangers.

when it was my turn to share why i was in the program, and what i hoped to accomplish this year, i talked some about my role and identity. and i said something like this (which, as i was saying it, became a bit of a revelation to me):

i’m spinning more plates right now than i ever have. i’ve certainly had weeks, and even months, of my life that have been more intense or stressful. but this season — the last 4 or so months — has been one where every arena of my life takes so much energy and attention. there are myriad aspects of ys that demand constant attention (from staffing stuff, to our upcoming move, to our budget process, to re-inventing stuff and other directional things). a non-profit board i serve on has required more attention than i’ve had to give. my kids are both in a space where they have some emotional needs. i’m trying to finish a book. the list could go on.

but as i’ve been working to keep all these plates spinning, i’ve been realizing two things:

first, when i’m expending so much energy on plate spinning, i am very quick to emotionally withdraw. maybe it’s a boundary thing, or self protection. but i just haven’t been present lately — particularly to my wife, but also to the staff of ys, and – maybe most concerning – to myself. i hide in tv and email.

second, and the bigger a-ha for me: i’m really good at plate spinning; and i think it’s something i’m wired for. it gives me some kind of satisfaction, or “worth”, or ego boost, i think. but i’m realizing that “who i am” and “what i do” are too closely linked for me. and the “what i do” is plate spinning. my concern in this is not “what happens if a plate crashes to the ground.” my concern (and the new realization) is that i’m not sure i’d know who i am if the plates no longer require spinning.

there are clearly all kinds of performance issues in this. pleasing issues. and the reality that i’m more comfortable with things that distract me from my interior life and emotions and — gasp — people.

identifying this is a good step, but it sure feels like the first of 10 or 100 or 1000 i need to take.

6 thoughts on “plate spinning”

  1. Yeah…that whole “who I am” is “what I do” is a hard one. I transitioned from working as a physical therapist in private practice to becoming a full time stay at home dad about 6 years ago. It was hard because it made me have to wrestle with and understand that I am not WHAT I do and that I find my identity in Jesus…and that I’m a son of the the King! I can’t imagine making that transition (especially a counter cultural one) without having been a Christ follower.

  2. Marko – even if it’s the first 10 or 100 steps of 1000 – thank you for being open and sharing that part of your life with us. I think it’s something important for youth workers to really key into in our lives – both looking at the WHO (in Christ) and the WHAT (which can become a job or a ministry). Thank you for helping us take a closer look at our interiors.

  3. good…I am a plate spinner too. Life at home would be so much better if I would take care of myself and my family first. Thanks for sharing.

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