Is it time for a self-assessment?
Though mentors, coaches, and sponsors can help guide your life and career, it’s also critically important not to overlook what may be your most valuable assessment resource: yourself.
Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman are management consultants who specialize in 360-degree reviews. The two have found that, when confronted with their mistakes, people are unsurprised more than 70 percent of the time. Why? Because they already know what the problem is. If I’m honest with myself, I know my own hang-ups, and I’ll bet you do as well.
Recently I found myself feeling stressed and unfocused. Everything seemed overwhelming, impossible, and no fun. There were also other signs of trouble—when I’m overly stressed, my shoulders get tense and hunch high around my ears, my cheeks flush, and my stomach hurts.
These physical signs provide a helpful wake-up call. I know that whenever they kick in it’s time for a good, old fashioned gut-check. Here are the mistakes I look for in a self-assessment:
1. Losing My Footing in God’s Word
When I start feeling those knots in my stomach, this is the first place I know I have to look. What’s my time with God been like lately? Has it been missing, rushed, or perfunctory? Sometimes the demands of my life—caring for my daughter Annie, running a nonprofit, keeping up with other commitments—are so pressing and present that they pull my focus away from God. These demands are real, and they require energy and attention, but it’s a mistake to confuse urgency with primacy.
Last year when the enormity of Annie’s current illness became apparent, I went into triage mode, cutting back on all my other commitments in order to be with her. At the time, I was involved in two Bible study groups, but making it to multiple meetings a week seemed out of the question. So I cut them out. I was praying and being prayed for and still attending church, but without that consistent outside accountability, I was picking up my Bible less.
Over time, my prayers felt more and more strained; I wasn’t connecting with God the way I knew I should. One of my mentees finally set me straight. She encouraged me to get back in the Word every day and suggested an online Bible study that I could join without having to leave Annie. Annie herself helped as well by asking me to share the study with her. Now I read my study every day and write a note to Annie about it.
The physical, mental, and emotional demands on my life have not changed, but reconnecting with God puts those demands in the proper perspective. “Come to me,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28, “all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The passage promises rest but not the way many of us imagine it. We like to think of the gold standard of rest as a beach vacation with our feet up and a good book in hand, but Jesus makes it clear that leisure is not what’s on offer here. He continues, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:29–30).
Note that whether you are bearing heavy burdens or are yoked to Jesus, there are weights to carry either way. What Jesus offers us here is himself: Don’t struggle and strain alone, he tells us, Come here to me, join with me, learn from me, and strain with me. I know I’m working at my best when I am with God and bolstered by his purpose.
2. Failing to Celebrate
God made me a doer. I get energy and satisfaction from accomplishing goals. I focus intensely on the challenge in front of me, and I move quickly from one task to the next. This personality trait has served me well in my career, but there are times when it also trips me up. I can be so eager to move on to the next challenge that I fail to notice the positives and celebrate as I should.
Research shows that people who both give and receive gratitude at work are happier and better at their jobs. I know that taking the time to acknowledge and reflect on progress is critical for team building and for maintaining perspective moving forward. Plus, it’s really fun.
In her bestselling book Jesus, CEO, Laurie Beth Jones points out that although Jesus had weighty responsibilities, he celebrated often. He noticed the beauty and care of God’s creation, he told stories about parties and banquets, and he loved to gather together with friends and food and song. He performed his first miracle at a party.
Taking time to notice good things and to express gratitude brings me joy, and it makes me a better boss, friend, and teammate.
3. Not Leaving Enough Margin
Along with being a doer, I am also a compulsive planner. I have a to-do list every day, including both short-term and long-term priorities. The lists help me stay organized, feel effective, and keep an eye on my commitments so I can exercise restraint when it comes to taking on new responsibilities. The reality of my life right now is there’s more unpredictability than I’m comfortable with.
I almost never finish everything on my list in a given day. Sometimes that’s fine, and I’m content to carry leftover items over to the next day. Other times though, the list and all the uncompleted items feel less like useful tools and more like sticks beating me over the head.
I’ve realized along with all of my to-do items I need to allow some margin: a bit of blank space to cope with the unexpected. Magic can happen in those blank spaces. Often, even when I have failed to allow for it, I’ve seen God step in and create an unplanned window of free time that turns out to be absolutely critical.
Choosing to allow that margin in my day means trusting God’s Word when it says, “Do not worry about anything” (Philippians 4:6–7) and believing that he will handle what I haven’t fully prepared for.
4. Inadequate Rest
I have always struggled with turning work off and resting properly, but it’s become even harder now that I’m caring for a sick daughter and working primarily out of my home office. My impulse is to go, go, go, and I tend to get run down. I’ve learned that I have to leave home in order to truly rest.
I know that I need rest. It nourishes my health and well-being, and, more importantly, it is part of God’s design for the lives of his people. The first biblical example of this is God’s day of rest after Creation (Genesis 2:2–3), and that pattern of work and rest is repeated throughout Jesus’ ministry (Mark 6:31, Matthew 8:24). Luke 5:15–16 shows that Jesus often chose to slip away from the crowd for rest and prayer, despite the pressing needs of people who were coming to him. Jesus saw the value of rest and prioritized it.
I try to plan regular trips away from home in order to get the replenishing rest I know I need. When I fail to schedule those trips, it becomes apparent pretty fast. This, along with a lack of margin, failure to celebrate, and losing focus on faith are my main joy-stealing culprits. I wish I didn’t struggle with these things, but I’m glad I know what to look for when I find myself feeling overwhelmed, and I’ve shared these enough with friends and family who I know they’re looking out for me too.