Set the B.A.R

Guest submission: Ali Campbell,

Having been involved in youth work for three decades, I’ve read a fair few books, been to a life times worth of conferences - hearing a lot of speakers - good, great and er, not. I have sought out the wise, the sage and the guru in an effort to improve my skills.  This blog post is based on the most helpful thing I have ever heard or read. Ever.  I mean EVER.  It is this. 

The best thing you can offer others is a healthy you.

It is one thing as a youth worker to be teaching, encouraging and equipping young people to believe they can have achieve their potential - it is quite another to live that life ourselves.

Maybe you are not like me - but, for me, the greatest challenge in my line of work is not finding the right resource, coming up with a cracking illustration, developing a team, doing a funding application or monitoring something out of the corner of my eye at a youth club whilst being engaged in conversation with someone right in front of me . . . No.  The greatest challenge in my work is me. 

So, I want to share three things that help me (I like threes).  They help me because I keep coming back to them to remind myself not because I am “on it” every day.  Being “healthy” is not about perfection - it is about being real, honest, appropriately vulnerable and authentic.  These three things help me set the bar (or, if i’m doing alright - they help me raise the bar, I can always improve in all three areas). 

So, why not set the B.A.R. for a healthy you?

 First up : Balance

Balance covers a whole host of things.  I’ve worked in places where the expectation has been that you work until you see a bright light and then stop for a bit, recovering just enough to keep going until you collapse in to bed.  I have also worked 37 hours a week with (you will hardly believe this) time off in lieu if I worked evenings and / or weekends . . . I know!!  Balance is different for everyone, but, to give our best - in my setting, to young people - it helps if we are not absolutely shattered by the time youth group rolls around.  It is simple.  It is hard to do.  Balancing work and life is hard when your life is your work!  Yet, getting balance right makes such a difference.  We might often encourage others to “Be the difference you want to see.” but, do they see us being “different”?  Being balanced with our time, energy, social media habits, work, rest, seeing our mates, buying groceries.  This stuff takes discipline.

Gymnasts, when being taught the balance beam are told to look at the end of the beam - not stare down at their feet right in front of them.  Look ahead, look where you are going!  Balance is about not being caught so much by what we are doing right this moment, staring down at our feet and willing ourselves to not lose balance - but looking ahead, to where we want to get to.  Think about your balance.  Where do you want to be?

Second : Attitude.

This would take an article all of its own.  Think back - how was your attitude at 15?  I used to be called an “angry young man”.  Constantly gobbing off because I knew better (I didn’t), always having the last word because I was right (mostly I wasn’t).  Attitude!  As we get older I think this, almost more than anything else, can draw us in to unhealthy thinking and unhealthy practice.  There are three things (see, I said I like threes), when my attitude is poor that I am prone to do : 

Comparison.   This can lead to jealousy, insecurity, fear and a whole bunch of other emotions and feelings and thoughts - which, If we allow them - will dominate our decision making and our values.  When we consider comparing ourselves with other people, or other approaches to life and work I’m reminded of this quote, “comparison is the root of all inferiority.”   Think about that for a moment. 

Competition.   I grew up with this.  “We have to do what they are doing!” meaning, the business or work place up the road.  You can earn, so I was taught, your work stripes by giving more of yourself, doing more, being more, leading more, attending more events, conferences, stuff.  We seem to have a similar desperation today about “keeping up”.  Social media does not help.  “I haven’t tweeted about what I am doing, maybe the people following me will think I am not doing anything!”  This just gives us (as if we needed it) yet another arena to compete in.  Number of followers?  Famous people we can namecheck or “living legends” we can grab that selfie with?  What the HECK are we doing?  Maybe you don’t have this competitive attitude, but ask yourself seriously, what are trying to grasp for, reach for, gain?  Are you doing that in a healthy way with a positive attitude?

Complaining.  Ah.  Now we get to it (at least for me).  The longer I have been alive the more I have to complain about.  There, I said it.  What do I mean by that?  Life is tough.  In fact, “The Road Less Travelled”, by M Scott Peck starts with this sentence, “Life is difficult”.  Great, thanks - as if I didn’t know that.  However, I can all to easily focus on a negative and allow that to shape my attitude - in fact, allow that to shape my entire reflection on a day at work or how I’m doing in life.  Little things can lead to us moaning that, “nobody gets it”, “I have to do everything myself”, “there is only one of me - I can’t be everywhere and do everything!”  We cannot allow others to determine our attitude or approach to work, we cannot allow circumstances to so dictate our attitude that we become jaundiced and cynical.  Our attitude leaks - our work colleagues, other leaders and friends and family will see what work and life is doing to us.

If we allow them, any one of these three “c”s will kill our attitude and eat us up inside.  Take a moment to consider, which are you prone to?  What could you do that would help you see things differently and improve your attitude? 

Third : Relationships.

I once heard a fellow youth worker boast that he knew his youth group better than his own children.  At the time, I didn’t have my own children, but I was staggered by this statement.  Is THIS what it means to work in a vocational job?  Sacrifice relationships for the sake of (important though they are) a group of young people?  No!  If we neglect this area or consider every relationship as simply serving the wider purpose of work we miss what it means to be alive, to be human, to be healthy!  Relationships are not a means to an end.  If we find that we have just no time for friends or family because “work” is taking all our time our “bar” is all wrong.  This direction where work becomes all consuming leads to disaster.  We need to cultivate relationships that are not about serving our job but simply about us living whole lives with interests and passions that are not dominated or dictated to by the boss or our business.  I now have children - they are not a “mini youth work project” in my own house”.  They are my kids!!  I grew up in an environment where it was normal for men in the vocational job I’m in to be in their studies, out every night offering “pastoral care” for everyone else - whilst neglecting home and family.  I cannot teach young people about the value of relationships if I decline to have real, vulnerable and honest ones myself - similarly, what am I passing on to my own kids if I do this?  Your family and your friends deserve more than your exhaustion or maybe catching up with them in six months if your diary allows it. 

If we have relationships beyond our work contexts and are investing in them - as well as leaning on others, who do we lift?  Who do we encourage and nurture?  Do we even have time for this?  If you haven’t - maybe do something about it.  Take some time out, phone a friend - go out for coffee without an agenda to use it as an illustration in your next presentation at work. 

So there we have it.  The best thing you have to offer others is a healthy you.  How healthy is your balance?  How healthy is your attitude?  How healthy are your relationships?

Sam GlassComment