Yesterday was a big day in this house. Santa came and left exciting gifts (yes, we still believe which makes it SO fun). We had a wonderful Christmas celebration with family and friends.
At yesterday’s party, I had a great conversation with my cousin Mark. As I have mentioned in past Tips, Mark is the Lead Pastor at Discover Church in Wadsworth, Ohio where the congregation has grown more than 20% over the past year, thanks in part to his leadership.
As we were talking, he was asking about how his sermons have changed over his tenure at Discover. I shared a few thoughts. My cousin Bob then asked if Mark ever got nervous before the message. Mark’s reply? He said he is always anxious and can’t wait for the music to end so he can get up there and get going.
We were all surprised. You would NEVER know he had any angst about presenting the sermon.
He is cool, calm, collected, funny and relatable. He’s a natural.
As he was talking about his pre-sermon jitters, he went through some of the thoughts that often run through his head. “Who are you to share this message.” “You’re not qualified to lead this.” (He is, of course).
It is that all-so-common imposter syndrome we face, but rarely think about others who “have it all together” deal with as we watch them perform with precision.
Though these thoughts run through his mind and his body feels that twinge of nerves, he said he “deals with it.” And because he “deals with it”, I am certain there is no one in the sanctuary that would believe Pastor Mark ever doubts that he is going to nail it! He said, at this point in his life, his angst doesn’t show up as fear, but it is “right there.” And it is always there.
His comment led to a few questions tumbling in my head that I didn’t want to bore the rest of my family with, so I called him this morning to get a rundown on how he “deals with it.”
As we talked about his experience, he shared FOUR THINGS that help him get up there every week and share lessons that can change a life.
#1. When those thoughts of doubt creep in, he reminds himself that he has been “called” to do this. It’s bigger than him. He has been given the tools needed to do the job and has been given the opportunity that is right for him. It’s a calling and he has been equipped to meet the challenge. Someone else (in this case, God) has put him in a position to do something that fits his skill set, knowledge base and position in life. He was put in this place at this time for a reason and if he remembers this, we can move forward with confidence.
This “calling” is something we can all use to benefit our performance. It's using Power Tool #1 – choosing one thought over another! If you are in a leadership position, someone believes you can do it. You probably didn’t put yourself there!
If you are in the starting lineup, you didn’t put yourself there! Someone believes you have the knowledge and skill to play the position.
If you get put in the game in a pitch-hit situation, your coach feels like you will give the team the best chance to win.
Mark called these ICNU situations, like “I see in you”! Who is your “I”? Who sees in you what you need to see in you?
Choose to remember that you have been called in, called up or called upon! Then the ICNU situations turn into “ICNMe” experiences!
#2. As he is listening to the hymns and awaiting sermon time, he often reminds himself that he’s screwed it up before and it wasn’t the end of the world! And if he screws it up again, the sun will still come up tomorrow because the world does not depend on his perfection (thankfully!).
Mark mentioned that, like all of us, he has screwed up the sequence, timing and cadence. He has forgotten things he had planned to present and not hit the mark. Reminding himself that this is part of the performance and that he can bounce back immediately or at the next opportunity, helps him keep things in perspective. Even though the congregation has an outline for his sermon, if he strays from it a bit, the chances of anyone really noticing it as an error are slim. He is choosing to allow for a mistake, meaning, if a mistake happens, it isn’t completely unexpected, and he can weather it and move on allowing the message to continue without a major disruption.
He is using Power Tool #2 – his Response ABLIITY.
All performers screw up. It’s part of the deal. Remember, Lebron James has missed almost 14,000 shots! Does one miss keep him from shooting the rest of the game? When he misses, do you think he is horrible, not capable or shouldn’t try again (I guess that depends on your thoughts on LBJ, but here in Akron, we love the guy!). No matter your personal feelings, you know the guy can shoot. He is, after all, the all-time leading scorer!
We are not Lebron, but even he does not control every variable. And things happen. I have heard coaches ask their team if they are so bad that one mistake or one bad call will ruin the entire game. How we respond to our mistakes determines our approach to our next opportunity. (See the 4-Step Performance Cycle HERE).
#3. He feeds the “good little Marky”! In his Christmas Eve sermon, he talked about the “little Marky” who sits on one shoulder and talks crap and the other “little Marky” who sits on the other shoulder and talks facts. We got to see the real-life “little Marky” in a Batman outfit in old family movies I had digitized for Christmas.
In our conversation, he likened his pre-sermon experience to the old Cherokee parable called “The One You Feed”. The grandfather explains to his grandson that inside all of us, a constant battle rages between a wolf of kindness, bravery and love and one of greed, hatred and fear. The grandson asks, who wins? The grandfather’s reply. The one we feed.
Likewise, in each of us, no matter how successful, there is a constant “BS” radio station playing in our head that tries to overtake the station of calm and confidence. Our ability to change the station to the frequency of the “good wolf” or the “little Marky” that deals in facts determines whether we can manage what’s in front of us. We can always change the station. Any time.
#4. Finally, Mark agrees with Russell Wilson that “the separation is in the preparation.” As Mark secretly wishes the worship team would speed up the tempo, he reminds himself that he is prepared. He followed his preparation process throughout the week.
He studied. He mentally and physically rehearsed. He knows his materials. He knows his timing. He is ready.
Every performer knows this is true. Although preparation does not guarantee a “win”, it gives us our best mental and physical chance to perform at our peak. Our body is as ready as it can be. And our mind knows it is.
We, like the first astronauts to go to the moon, have run through all of the scenarios, good and bad, and have a plan to manage them should they present themselves. We have turned the “what ifs” (potential catastrophizing) into “imagine ifs” (hopeful planning), which is a powerful mindset because we have rehearsed solutions for every potential issue.
Hard work and preparation do not guarantee success. But they do guarantee, if we allow them to, that we can walk into any arena feeling like we deserve to be there because are ready.
Mark’s last words in our conversation ring true. He said, “Those who succeed learn to control it.” “It” is the imposter syndrome, thoughts of doubt, negative self-talk and all the self-sabotaging games our minds play as we move into uncomfortable situations. Those who find success, as a ministry leader or winner in any realm of life, use their Power Tools. They learn to manage the inner game!
He mentioned the “constant tension” that exists in looking ahead but knowing that the next step is the most important.
His next step is in his walk from the front row of the congregation to the front of the church. This is where the shift happens. The tension lessens. The angst is squelched. Preparation is in overdrive. He follows his process. Focused on the moment he falls into the flow of his work.
The small act of saying “Good morning, church” moves him to the feeling that “it’s 'go' time.” If he stands there and waits to walk to the front once he feels like it, a few more pre-sermon songs may be needed. No matter how he feels, he takes one step at a time on his way to the front, knowing it’s always easier to act your way into a feeling than to feel your way into an action.
No matter who we are, what we do or who we lead, we all feel feelings of doubt, inadequacy and imposter syndrome often enough that we, too, need a plan to manage the inner game.
Mark’s is a pretty good one. What’s yours?
Manage the moments!
P.S. Here’s a link to Mark’s Christmas Eve service. I thought it was a good one.
P.P. S. We all need tools to help us be our best. Shoot me a text at 234-206-0946 or an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and get on my schedule as you wrap up fall and look ahead to the next phase of the season!
Mental Performance Coach
email@example.com • 234-206-0946