Erica is a mother of two, who at BelieveBoldly.com started a prayer movement called #thefives. You sign up, they put you in groups (sometimes by category —mom, women, etc.), and for five days a week for five weeks, you and that group support each other in one mission: to wake up at 5 am and pray. Her org is organizing, through #thefives, more than many (I didn't want to wait for a proper number before I posted this article, so let's say a lot) of people in prayer, and the stories that are coming out of it are amazing. My own experience in #thefives was wonderful (although not easy with the early wake up call).
She is a woman with a God-given purpose, and she is rocking it. The thing that always strikes me about Erica who I actively wish would be my BFF but I just stalk on Instagram — is how focused and effective her ministry is. It's so purposeful. Genuine.
I have seen this time and time again with people doing amazing things: they focus on a piece, their piece of the world pie. They focus on the thing that God has called them to, and even though it often leads to places no one expected, they are true to who God made them to be. Erica blogs, has written a book, hosts retreats, and does all other sorts of amazing stuff, but she always brings it back to prayer and believing boldly.
I often fall under the "trying to do too much so you don't do anything at all" category. It's a bad habit caused by a deep-seated fear of both boredom and being unproductive, and somewhere along the line I forgot how to do anything but everything.
This last year has started breaking me of that. I've slowed down and learned my limits. More than that, I have started respecting my limits. Going back to school at the age of 31 with two kids at home had a lot to do with that. I'm in this accelerated program that, once you jump in, just doesn't stop until graduation. I don't have time to procrastinate, be lazy, or find a new project. When you take an entire accredited college course in five weeks, you have to stay focused or else you drown. Plus, in between classes I have two children to raise, so when I have time to do homework, I have to get it done, because before I know it, I'll be interrupted...again.
My degree program is for organizational leadership, so that's where my focus has been this last year: what it means to be a leader, how to manage a team, how to help employees thrive, how to better communicate with stakeholders, and, ya know, accounting. This program is at a Christian college, making it mixed with biblical conversations and what this especially means for Christians. I'd say about seventy percent of the curriculum is aimed at building character. It's not just learning the tactics and theory, but going through (lots of) assessments, introspection, and accountability, and applying these principles to every area of your life. I have changed dramatically because of it.
My biggest change has been in one area: self-confidence. Primarily, I now give value to my strengths. Before, my strengths were what I was left with after all my faults. It was like crumbs left. I worked really hard and tried to do everything because I felt good at nothing, so I was going to try to hedge my bets. Now I know I'm actually talented in some ways, ways that matter. I just have to utilize them properly and stop letting the stuff I am not good at get in the way. Guess what? That's 90% of what leadership theory is about: utilizing strengths in your employees, organization, or team, and eliminating, as much as you can, the barriers in their way.
Here are some of my strengths:
- I thrive on encouraging people, connecting them with resources, and equipping them with what they need to do, whatever it is they need to do.
- I am good at troubleshooting programs and team dynamics within organizations.
- I'm great at figuring out where people are unique and then finding a place for them to use those gifts.
- I naturally jump at starting projects and am fascinated with the work it takes to build a foundation for something greater than myself.
- I like being challenged.
- I am passionate about many issues and causes.
Lastly, I'm just now accepting is that I no longer have a filter or "wall" when it comes to my personality. I am too tired, anxious, and depressed to keep up the wall. I am 100% what you get. Yeah, I don't share everything with everyone. You can be real and not TMI. Still, I've been ashamed of my lack of filter since it crashed in 2013. It makes me unpolished, less professional or graceful than I'd like to be, or felt like I should be, and more vulnerable to rejection. But it's possibly my greatest strength.
I've had people truly love me for who I was and not just the piece of me they saw, which has built deeper friendships than I ever have had. I have started painting and being artsy, which has made me feel more like myself than ever, and connected me with people in ways I would never have otherwise. I've seen it affect people and make people comfortable enough to put themselves out there in ways they wouldn't have before. It's taken me by surprise that this may actually be something God made me for.
I've also realized that I do want to be a great leader. That said, let me clarify: a leader isn't someone who has all the answers. I was terrified at the term leadership because of that myth. It's a myth a lot of leaders believe. However, a leader is someone with influence over others. A good leader is someone who uses their influence to move people towards a goal. A great leader is someone who uses their influence to move people in a way that makes them thrive while they are accomplishing that goal. I can do that, which means I can be a great leader.
Even writing that last sentence from the comfort of my couch, without posting it on the Internet (yet), is scary. I am fearful of sounding arrogant but more afraid of setting expectations too high so that I am judged when I don't meet them. However, it's the truth. I could be a great leader. It won't be a permanent status though. It will come in moments when I am encouraging, equipping, and supporting others to thrive in what God has called them to. In the times when I am fulfilling who God has made me to be. And I am sure there will be moments in between that I will fail. That's really to be expected, and I need to be okay if people judge me by those failures. That's ultimately on them and not me. Those failures are not who I am. I need to stop lowering the bar and actually be truthful to who I am and what I am about, to stop trying to avoid it.
People keep asking what job I want after I have my Bachelors of Science in Organizational Leadership. I don’t have one job in mind. I have a purpose. I want a job where I can be a great leader. This makes my job hunt very broad, but also very specific, because having more confidence in who I am and my value has made me able to focus on what God has called me to. It’s not to a specific job or career, but to an identity I’ve been clinging to since my teenage years. It’s a deeper purpose. It may come out in a job or ministry I join, or possibly in a business I’m considering launching. At least I have a better sense of what my strengths and purpose are now, and not only that, I am proud of it.
Erica's ministry never ceases to inspire me. She recently wrote a post sharing a success moment where she felt great as a mom. How often do we read ones where we feel like failures but then share how we recovered later? Those are awesome, but she talked about how she rocked the morning. Something I rarely do. I share success only if there were well-documented struggles before hand. My strengths are not always dramatic, though . They're sometimes just the way God wired me, and I need to be able to say "this is who I am and I am awesome at doing stuffs" without three million disclaimers and a sinking heart declaring myself prideful and arrogant. Being vulnerable with no filter means being open with the good stuff too, not just the morning meltdowns and paint-stained clothes.
Give your strengths the value they deserve, there you’ll find who God made you to be. Also, I may do my own #thefives group in January, so if you want in, let me know!