Loneliness and social isolation are becoming a behavioral epidemic, resulting in increased depression, anxiety, and suicide rates. I’ve experienced loneliness at times and know how brutal it can be. I’ve also witnessed first-hand how emotionally and mentally destructive it can be to my family, friends, and peers. We need connection, we need community, we need each other.
Today, it’s challenging to have a great social life. This was true even before Covid-19 became an issue.
In the not-so-distant past, it used to be so boring to stay at home during the evenings and the weekends that people always looked for an excuse to get out of the house. But now, between streaming services, the internet, smartphones, and video games, it’s much easier to find an excuse to stay home.
Covid-19 has only made the situation even more challenging. Now, there is a legitimate reason to avoid others.
While a few select people seem to thrive with minimal human contact, most people need to spend time with others to stay emotionally healthy and happy.
Luckily, there are still things you can do to help maintain your emotional health, even when your time with others is reduced. The key is to be intentional.
Learn how to ease the discomfort of loneliness and social isolation with these tips:
- Be productive. Just because you might be spending a lot of time alone doesn’t mean you just have to sit there and be miserable. Everyone feels better when they’re being productive. Some productive activities include:
- Paint the living room.
- Volunteer to help others.
- Take a class online.
- Rearrange the pantry.
- Take the car in to have the tires rotated.
- Take the dog for a walk.
- Read a book.
- And many more
- Safely connect with others. Use your imagination and find a way to connect with people while making your health a priority.
- Use Skype, Zoom, Facetime, and other options for talking “face-to-face.”
- Chat online via forums.
- Sit outside by a fire in the fresh air and have a conversation with a friend.
- Go to church or attend a sporting event.
- Join a class and learn something new with others.
- Play golf or tennis.
- Volunteer at a local charity. Recently, my wife and I volunteered at a food pantry to take the focus off of ourselves and place it on others.
- View beautiful things. What makes something attractive? It makes you feel a certain way when you look at it. With your smartphone or computer, you can view just about anything in the world. Spend some time looking at beautiful things each day, and you’ll feel great.
- Look at old photographs.
- Go to a museum.
- Find the most perfect tree in the park and really look at it.
- Take up a solo hobby. There are plenty of hobbies you can do by yourself. Paint, play chess online, hike, knit, write, ride a bike, or train your dog. A hobby is something you choose to do because it brings you pleasure.
- Get a pet. If you don’t have a pet, consider getting one. You can have a more meaningful relationship with the right pet than you can have with 99% of the people in the world. What type of animal interests you? My dog, Bonnie, is a great companion at times when no one else is around.
- Maintain a high level of self-care. Loneliness and social isolation often lead to poor self-care. It’s important to continue taking good care of yourself even if you’re spending a lot of time alone. For example, a shower isn’t something that you do just for others. It’s also something that you do for yourself.
- Be creative. Most people find they are more creative when they have time to themselves. Now is an ideal time to take advantage of your solitude. Heck, I even wrote a book during the pandemic. Let your creative juices flow!
- What ideas do you have?
- What do you want to create?
- What do you want to experiment with?
Having a lot of free time alone doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There is a lot you can do to ease the discomfort of loneliness and social isolation. Technology makes it relatively easy to connect with others, even if physical proximity is impossible. Feeling productive can also ease the pain of being alone.
Instead of focusing on this great challenge, try to take advantage of its unique possibilities. You can learn more about yourself and try out a few hobbies. You’re free to explore your interests without interference from others.
Just think – by developing other interests, when the time comes when you can reconnect socially, you’ll have a variety of new things to talk about.
If you are a Christian, I encourage you to trust God’s promise, “Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 40:10 ESV) God said that he will never leave you or forsake you. When I was at rock bottom in some of my darkest moments, I trusted God, sensed his presence, and knew that he was with me. I hope you will trust God’s promise.
Lastly, if you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or experiencing suicidal thoughts, talk to someone NOW! You’ve got to tell somebody. You’re not alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to get help (available 24 hours): 1-800-273-8255. Website: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
All my best,
Preston> Read More
You’re probably reading this because you’re experiencing some level of anxiety and are looking for a solution. Before you read on, take a quick self-assessment and determine your level of anxiety. . .
Anxiety Self-Assessment Scale
INSTRUCTIONS: This scale is designed for your personal use. There are no right or wrong answers. Usually, your first response is the best. For each item decide if it:
- NEVER applies to you (mark 0)
- SOMETIMES applies to you (mark 1)
- HALF THE TIME applies to you (mark 2)
- FREQUENTLY applies to you (mark 3)
- ALWAYS applies to you (mark 4)
Make sure you base your answers on how you actually behave in your daily life, not on how you would like to be.
- I feel tense, nervous, restless, or agitated
- I feel afraid for no apparent reason
- I worry about bad things that might happen to me or those I care about
- I have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up early
- I have difficulty eating too much, too little or digesting my food
- I wish I knew a way to make myself more relaxed
- I have difficulty with my concentration, memory or thinking
- I would say I am anxious much of the time
- From time to time I have experienced a racing heartbeat, cold hands or feet, dry mouth, sweating, tight muscles, difficulty breathing, numbness, frequent urination, or hot/cold flashes
- I wish I could be as relaxed with myself as others seem to be
SCORING: Add all scores together . . . TOTAL SCORE ___________
- MINIMAL ANXIETY – 0 to 8 point
- MILD ANXIETY – 8 to 16 points
- MODERATE ANXIETY – 17 to 24 points
- HIGH ANXIETY (Warning Level) – 25 to 32 points
- EXTREME ANXIETY (Warning Level) – 33 to 40 points
How did you rate yourself? Does your anxiety level concern you? How would you like to score yourself in the future? What’s the gap between where you are and where you want to be? Do you want to experience a true and genuine peace? If so, I encourage you to read on . . .
First, let’s talk about the definition of anxiety and its destructive impact. Anxiety is “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (such as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.”[i] Anxiety is a behavioral response to worry. Worry is “to subject to persistent or nagging attention or effort.”[ii] Furthermore, worry “implies an incessant goading or attacking that drives one to desperation.”[iii] When you worry about uncertainties, you become anxious and stressed.
The problem of anxiety is epidemic, and it exhausts mental, physical, and spiritual energy; the health cost can be high. Here are the facts according to anxietycentre.com website:
- 40 million people in the U.S. will experience impairment because of an anxiety condition this year
- Only 4 million will receive treatment, and of those, only 400,000 will receive proper treatment
- Those who experience anxiety and stress have a very high propensity for drug abuse and addictions
- 65% of North Americans take prescription medications daily, 43% take mood-altering prescriptions regularly
- Paxil and Zoloft (two of the more popular anti-anxiety medications) ranked 7th and 8th in the top ten prescribed medications in the U.S.
- Recreational drugs are also used to cope with anxiety. 42% of young adults in America regularly use recreational drugs (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
- Alcohol is commonly used to cope with anxiety
- 25 – 40% of all patients in U.S. hospitals are being treated for complications resulting from alcohol-related problems (The Marin Institute)
- Alcohol-related car crashes are the number one killer of teens. Alcohol use is also associated with homicides, suicides, and drownings—the next three leading causes of death among youth (Center for Substance Abuse Prevention)
The website goes on to outline anxiety symptoms, including:
- Often feel out of control of their health and life
- Experience higher levels of overall stress
- Often struggle with low self-esteem
- Feel nervous in many social situations
- Have difficulty managing pressure
- Have higher expectations of themselves and others
- Feel returned love is performance-based
- Often have unhealthy boundaries
- Are often workaholics
- Are more often sick
- Often have unhealthy relationships
- Visit the doctor more often
- Tax the medical system (with frequent trips to their doctor or emergency rooms)
- Are more likely to take medications
- Are more likely to have other health problems
- Are overall more unhappy
- Experience erratic emotional behaviors
- Often quick to get angry
- Regularly feel unsettled
- Regularly feel overwhelmed
- Feel disconnected or detached from reality and life
- Often feel they are just on the edge of losing control
- Often aren’t reliable (because their symptoms may prevent them from following through)
- Become inward-focused and dwell on their health condition and personal problems
- May jump from relationship to relationship in search of perfection
- May jump from job to job because of higher levels of stress
- Live a restricted lifestyle (within their self-imposed “safe zones”)
- Feel life is passing them by
- Question their faith and God’s presence in their lives
- Feel at a distance from God
Do you experience any of the above symptoms? I’m all too familiar with many of them. The challenge is that people are looking to medicate themselves, become numb, and escape the anxiety in their lives. They want peace, rest, and ease. But the great enemy of peace is anxiety[iv]. Apprehension has a significant impact on our lives and our relationship with God. For the general population, anxiety is a complex issue. For the Believer, it is a more straightforward issue and can be handled through trusting in God. People of Faith shouldn’t be filled with anxiety. Rather, they need to bring their problems and needs to the Lord with the confidence that He cares for them, and His care is sufficient.[v] The Bible says,
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.[vi] (Philippians 4:6-7 – The Message).
Peace is the enemy of anxiety. God-given peace is the inner tranquility and confidence that He is in control. This does not mean the absence of trials on the outside, but it does mean quiet confidence within, regardless of circumstances, people, or things.[vii] This peace will safeguard your heart and mind through Christ Jesus; it will keep you from sinning under your troubles and from sinking under them; keep you calm and cool under pressure.
In Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,” he provided very practical advice on how to handle worry:
- Ask yourself, “What is the worst that can possibly happen?”
- Prepare to accept it if you have to
- Then calmly proceed to improve upon the worst
I strongly believe that anxiety, worry, and stress can be overcome by trusting in God, turning everything over to Him in prayer, replacing worry with worship and acting as Dale Carnegie suggests. Through these things, God’s peace will fill you and enable you to handle any circumstance.
If you are struggling with anxiety right now, pray this prayer with me: Lord, I need you. Please protect me with your righteous right hand – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Calm the waters of my heart even as the vast ocean around me rages. Amid the chaos and panic, give me a sense of divine inner peace, help me trust you in all things, and know that you are in control. In Jesus’ great and mighty name, I pray, Amen!
My friend, may the Lord bless you, keep you and give you peace.
If you enjoyed reading this article and benefited by it, would you help me by?
- SHARING the post on social media
- DOWNLOAD the FREE chapter from my soon to be published book, The Discipled Leader. Please read it, share your thoughts with me and pass it along to someone who may benefit from the chapter’s Message. Click on the header “Free Chapter Offer” for more details.
[i] Mish, F. C. (2003). Preface. Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
[ii] Mish, F. C. (2003). Preface. Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
[iii] Mish, F. C. (2003). Preface. Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
[iv] Utley, R. J. (1997). Paul Bound, the Gospel Unbound: Letters from Prison (Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon, then later, Philippians) (Vol. Volume 8). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.
[v] Ellsworth, R. (2004). Opening up Philippians (p. 84). Leominster: Day One Publications.
[vi] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Php 4:6–7). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
[vii] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 95). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.> Read More
“Hi Preston, I’m interested in taking on your project and representing you.”
Those are the exhilarating words I’d longed to hear. But the journey to that shining moment was trying. You see, a few months ago, my former agent stepped away from the literary agency and publishing world. He dropped me like a hot potato.
Seeking new representation, I sent out several agency inquiries with no response. I began thinking I was running out of options to publish my book traditionally. I felt broken, rejected, and disheartened. I’d worked onThe Discipled Leader(TDL) for ten years and began to question God. Here’s what I wrote in my journal last month:
I’m depressed. I feel it in my bones. So much to do but little enthusiasm. I’m experiencing the “Black Dog,” as Winston Churchill called it. Why? I’m struggling with TDL. Should I keep on or move on? Am wasting my time? I keep telling myself that God gave me the message, the calling to write. Not so sure. Maybe it’s all in my head.
So, what does life look like if I stop pursuing TDL? Why did I start in the first place? I feel alone on this journey. God’s been quiet and seems absent. I lashed out at God a couple of days ago and told him how frustrated I am. First honest comments in a while. Not sure how he takes me.
I don’t want to shrink back, but I feel like I’m losing my vision, my vigor. I don’t want to retire and live a secluded life. I want to answer God’s call to make disciples. Somehow, someway. I want to be found faithful with the time, talents, and resources he’s given me. I must be in the “messy middle,” the “now and not yet.”
Just stop? No more blogging, no more speaking, no more platform building? Oh Lord, this will require your intervention for it to succeed. But what does success look like? Helping someone grow in Christ and become a positive influence in his or her world. It’s not about a creed or a cause. It’s about Christ. It’s all about him. It’s not about me.
If I self-publish the book, then what? Sell a few copies, then what? I can say I’m a published author. Big deal. Is it about my resume? Or is it about discipling people? What’s my vision? Is it bigger than just publishing a book? Is it about helping people reach their potential in Christ? TDL’s content provides a framework for Christians to make the connection between their spiritual and secular lives. Christ working in them and through them, changing them and changing the world around them.
I believe Jesus transforms our lives and transformed lives transform cultures. No specific cause. It’s about stemming the tide of evil in today’s society. Healing relationships, families, being a positive force in our businesses, schools, communities, and churches.
I get all of this, but I feel like a fish swimming up-stream — only one man. Lord, I can’t do this on my own. I’m fearful of success. I have many self-limiting beliefs. I propose, but you dispose. You engineer all circumstances. You work all things for the good of those who love you. May you receive the credit, the glory, the praise. I crave affirmation, but I pray my affirmation comes from you, not the world.
Lord, if you’re listening this morning, at 5:56 am, would you please fill me, lift my spirits, allow me to walk with you, to hear from you, to be in your presence. I seek you. I need you. Please.
That day, encouragement began coming out of the blue. I received affirming emails and texts from friends that didn’t know I was struggling.
Then, Jay called.
Jay’s a business associate who’d read some of my blogs. He asked me about the content, why I wrote them and then shared that he was a believer as well. He told me that he struggled with being a Christian in the workplace and that he found value in what I wrote. He felt encouraged by the messages.
I thanked him for his comments and then told him about my recent setback. I shared with him that God seemed very quiet and had abandoned me. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to continue pursuing my dream.
Jay said, “God is often quiet when he’s already told us what to do. Be obedient to his calling. It will happen in his timing. And know that God hasn’t abandoned you. He will finish what he started. I think the world needs to hear what you have to say.”
I hung up the phone and cried in my office. I got on my knees and thanked God for his encouragement through others. I was inspired, determined not to give up.
About a week later, I was sitting at my desk, working away when the phone rang. The caller ID said “Lancaster, CA.” I figured it was another robocall and I shouldn’t answer. But, for some reason, I picked up the phone and on the other end was Steve, a literary agent.
He said, “Hi Preston, I’m interested in taking on your project and representing you.”
Steve and I talked about TDL’s platform and my vision for the book. After our conversation, he said he’d call in a few days.
Well, a few days passed, and I got anxious. I figured “what the heck” and so I called him. Steve answered the phone and said he’d like to represent me. I thanked him, and as we hung up the phone, I began jumping for joy.
The dream is alive, and I can’t be more grateful.
The journey to find another agent was wearisome. I doubted God and was honest with him. He heard my cry, and when I was just about to give up, he responded beyond my imagination. I am so thankful for the opportunity and the journey to date.
Speaking of the journey, here are three powerful lessons I’ve learned during my recent circumstances:
#1 The Power of Prayer– Prayer is powerful because of the one to whom we pray. I continue relearning this and that I need to constantly bring my worries, doubts, and fears to God. When I express my concerns, share what’s on my heart, and am honest with God, he hears me and fills me with peace. The Bible says, “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” (Philippians 4:6–7 MSG).
#2 The Power of Patience– Waiting is hard. It takes patience. There is an old maxim, “patience is a virtue, which all admire, but few attain.”But the Bible says, “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted, but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:29–31 ESV) I learned that if I wait on God and am patient, he’ll strengthen me in trying times.
#3 The Power of Encouragement– Congressman George M. Adams once said encouragement is “oxygen to the soul.” So true! Encouragement provides energy and enthusiasm. It builds others up and helps them overcome adversity. Mark Twain wrote, “I can live two months on a good compliment.” The Bible says, “Gracious speech is like clover honey— good taste to the soul, quick energy for the body.“ (Proverbs 16.24 MSG). Positive, uplifting words matter and make a difference. God encouraged me through others. I found hope and was inspired to keep on working toward my dream.
If you’re struggling to realize your dream and feel like giving up, I charge you to seek God and tap into the power of prayer, patience, and encouragement. If you do, you’ll find peace, strength, and hope to keep going.
Carpenter, E. E., & Comfort, P. W. (2000). In Holman treasury of key Bible words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew words defined and explained(p. 357). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
“Pray, but don’t pray too hard,” the doctor said with reservation. . .. “This is the most extreme case I’ve ever seen and I don’t want you to get your hopes up” . . .
The words hit us like a ton of bricks.
My wife, Carla, just learned that her teeth, gums, and bones in her mouth were rapidly deteriorating. She could lose five of her front lower teeth and may need implants.
The doctor told her that she had a rare and unique case caused by a post orthotic permanent retainer on the back of her lower teeth. The retainer wireuntwisted over time and contorted her teeth out of place.
If you’ve ever had braces and a permanent retainer wire glued to the back of your teeth after the braces were removed, you know what I’m talking about…The purpose of the wire is to ensure that your teeth stay in place long term. A very common procedure.
Back to my story.
There was a glimmer of hope. Carla’s doctor was world renowned for his periodontics results. He’d developed a radical procedure that combined skin and bone grafting, and braces. The doctor’s procedure restored many people with gum and bone loss.
But hadn’t ever seen a case like Carla’s.
With the grim diagnosis, Carla became depressed and embarressed. You can imagine the despair, anxiety, and hurt she experienced.
We began to pray amid Carla’s gloomy trial. We believed that God would hear our cries and heal Carla. We saw the doctor’s doubt that prayer would make a difference as a challenge. We decided to turn to God, put our trust in him and fervently seek his healing.
I wrote in my journal. . .
The doctor encouraged us to “pray, but not pray too hard”. He doesn’t want us to get our hopes up. But we serve a great and generous God. He can do a miracle for Carla. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the doctors who see this as a great case study, see God work a miracle and have no other explanation to her healing? Please Lord, do this. Please heal Carla’s mouth. Please help the teeth to move back into place and restore her bones. Help her not lose her teeth. If not, you are still my God and I pray that Carla will continue to trust in you and grow in her faith.
Carla endured lengthy oral surgery. The doctor expertly grafted skin and bone to re-establish her teeth. Then, braces were put on to keep the teeth in place. She said it was the most excruciating pain she’d ever experienced including childbirth.
Initially, her outcome was uncertain. Carla frequently visited her periodontist, orthodontist and dentist to evaluate progress. Always hoping for good news but being prepared for the worst.
And, we continued to pray and boldly hoped that God would work a miracle.
Over time, Carla’s mouth healed. She didn’t lose five teeth. She didn’t need implants. Her bone and surrounding gums were restored. Her teeth stabilized.
Through the skilled physician’s hands, God was faithful. He led Carla to the periodontist who could help her. In spite of the dire prognosis, God did a miracle and healed Carla.
Carla was a true champion through the whole trial and process. She never gave up hope. Carla maintained an incredibly positive attitude and trusted God with the outcome.
And, she kept her beautiful, contagious smile that lightens up every room and makes the world a better place.
During one of her last check-ups, the doctor told her, “you’ve made great progress. You’ll probably be buried with your teeth!”. . . A funny way of saying, your teeth are healthy and permanent.
And interestingly, Carla’s mouth became famous! The doctor now shares her case study around the world and helps other doctors apply what he learned.
God is faithful and we are so thankful for his healing Carla’s mouth.
Through this and many other challenging circumstances, I’ve learned . . .
Trials Are Meant to Bring the Best Out of You: The Bible says, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So, don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (James 1:2-4 – The Message). God brings trials into your life to separate the pure from the impure. He puts you in situations that reveal your true character (e.g., integrity), show your devotion to him, and to help your faith grow. God wants the best of you.
Live Life with Bold Hope: Have you ever heard the phrase “hope is not a strategy”. I agree with the statement but always counter with, “but hope is essential.” Why? Hope is the expectant confidence in a positive outcome or future. Hope shapes your ability to navigate through current circumstances. Hope helps you be a better problem solver, remain flexible, be optimistic, handle disappointment and manage stress. Where do you find hope? God! The Bible says, “May the God of great hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!” (Romans 15:12-13 – The Message). Trust in God, and he will enable you to live life with bold hope.
Above All Else, Pray: When you find yourself in the midst of dire circumstances, talk to God. Tell him about what’s happening and seek his help. He will either calm you or calm the storms of life that surround you. The Bible says, “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” (Philippians 4:6-7 – The Message). In all events, pray, and God will help you.
I acknowledge that not all circumstances or trials result in immediate, tangible or positive outcomes like Carla’s. But I encourage you to understand that trials are meant to bring the best out of you, live life with bold hope and above all else, pray. If you turn to God and look to him, he will help you.
If you enjoyed reading this article and benefited by it, would you help me by doing two things?
#1 – SHAREthe post on social media
#2 DOWNLOADthe FREE chapter from my soon to be published book, The Discipled Leader. Please read it, share your thoughts with me and pass it along to someone who may benefit from the chapter’s message. Click on the header “Free Chapter Offer” for more details.
Thanks for reading!
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Panicked by the rapid footsteps closing in behind me, I began sprinting as fast as I could. My heart was racing, my chest became tight and I struggled to breathe. I was being chased by a pack of wolves. For some reason, the alpha male-targeted me and I was the pack’s prey. Maybe they sensed weakness or vulnerability. The wolf pack chased me for a long period of time and I could sense they were about to catch me.
I dripped with sweat, fearful of what was about to happen. Exhausted from the chase, I slowed and was attacked by the pack. Amazingly, I found the strength to fight back and somehow escape. I was severely injured. It would take a long time to heal and overcome my fears. I couldn’t shake my experience with the alpha male and his pack. I was always fearful that another pack of wolves was waiting for me wherever I went. Out of self-protection, I wanted to make sure no one saw any weaknesses or vulnerabilities. I didn’t want to become a target again; someone’s prey.
During my last year at Hershey Chocolate, I was targeted by Jack Boss and his pack of wolves. Jack was the Sales VP and was an intimidating figure. He had wolf-like features. One blue eye and another green. Grey hair and a skin color to match. His ears were always on alert, sensing opportunities to pounce on someone. He’d earned the reputation as a dictator. It was his way or the highway. If you didn’t conform to his methods, he’d devour you. . .Your career at Hershey would be over.
At first, Jack Boss liked me. I came out of the Sales Development program, a two-year Hershey boot camp for high potentials, and was assigned as the Hershey market key account manager. I excelled in the Sales Development role and Jack appreciated my get it done aggressive nature.
But I was over-confident and made a number of political mistakes early on. For example, I was assigned to call on Giant Foods Headquarters in Carlisle, PA, just outside of Hershey. Because of the headquarters proximity to the town of Hershey, a number of Hershey Chocolate executives including Jack Boss were involved in the account. Giant Food’s management told me that they wanted me to be the sole call point; “too many chiefs in the teepee” they said. I told Jack and he didn’t like it. But he agreed to withdraw from the account and see what would happen.
I felt empowered to make decisions with Giant Foods management. In a collaborative fashion with the buyer, we implemented key product selection and promotion changes to improve the business.
But Jack disagreed with the decisions. And, he held a grudge against me for his withdrawing from Giant’s business.
That’s when the chase began.
Jack Boss started scrutinizing every plan I developed and the decisions I made. During meetings, he’d publicly challenge me and demean me in front of my peers. I stopped being invited to key Hershey meetings. He pulled all administrative support. And, he personally reviewed all of my expense reports looking for something wrong.
Then, his pack began to surround me.
Hershey, PA is a small town. When my family lived there, the population was 12,000 people and 5,000 of them worked for Hershey. I was literally under a microscope because of my key account role. Every new product launch or promotion execution was there for everyone to see – the good and the bad. If something was wrong, I’d get the call to fix it. The scrutiny became more intense as Jack Boss encouraged his pack to contact me if something was amiss. And, they did.
I worked even harder hoping that my performance and results would speak for themselves. But it got to the point where it seemed I couldn’t do anything right. My negative self-talk was deafening and the stress was overwhelming. I remember I got a twitch in my right eye that wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t sleep and was continuously anxious. I was scared of losing my job, frightened of failure, afraid of letting my young family down, petrified of being stuck in Central PA, and worried I’d be unemployable. I began believing I was a failure, a loser. I was being crushed by Jack Boss and my circumstances. I was in a doom loop and felt hopeless.
Then, I prayed.
I told God about my circumstances, which he already knew. I pursued him, his protection, and his refuge. I asked God for courage and that he’d help me find a way out, a way to elude the wolves. And, I gradually began replacing the negative self-talk with positive inner conversations.
God strengthened me as I trusted him. He restored my hope. I found the confidence to pull things together and put an exit plan in place. I began working with an executive recruiter and eventually landed my dream job with The Coca-Cola Company. Our family moved back to the Southeast and my salary increased by 30%! God was good.
Through the interview process, I realized that my experience in Hershey prepared me to secure my new role. But I was still injured from Jack Boss and the wolf pack attacks. For years, I didn’t trust upper management. I was fearful that all managers were like Jack Boss. Out of self-preservation, I wouldn’t say much in front of them. And when I did, I’d stutter and stammer through my comments just waiting to be challenged or embarrassed. Also, I ran out of fear that something would go wrong and I’d be fired.
It took a long time to heal these wounds and overcome my fears. It wasn’t easy. God continued working in me and changing me from the inside out. Eventually, I realized that everyone I encountered wasn’t out to get me. It was okay to make mistakes. And that there are some great people leaders out there.
For the believer, what is the key to overcoming fear? . . .
Discipled Leaders Overcome Fear with Faith
Fear is a powerful human emotion that impacts everyone, including leaders. Fear is triggered when you anticipate physical harm or a perceived threat. Fear elicits physical responses like sweating, rapid heartbeat, and weakness. Apprehension creates doubts, insecurity, and low self-esteem. Fright also evokes apathy, inaction, and ignorance. Chronic fear can impact your overall well-being. Fear can cripple and render you ineffective.
Studies show that top fears include failure, success, dying, commitment, public speaking, rejection, making the wrong decision, criticism, taking responsibility, and the unknown. (Aside from dying, which of those don’tleaders face on a daily basis?) Other fears include being found out or exposed, not living up to expectations, making people mad, conflict, being honest, and fearing what others think. That’s a pretty exhaustive list.
I learned a long time ago that fear stands for False Evidence Appearing Real, meaning that one’s perceptions drive negative emotions and thinking. For example, everyone engages in a daily conversation with themselves. Studies show that we have “12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day and as many as 98 percent of them are exactly the same as we had the day before.”[i] This self-talk is often unconstructive and damaging. As a matter of fact, eight out of ten thoughts we have each day are negative.[ii] Do the math. That’s up to 48,000 negative thoughts daily. Don’t believe me? Think about the lies you tell yourself every day. Have you ever found yourself thinking:
I am unworthy.
I can’t lead.
I am a failure.
I’m not good enough.
No one loves me or cares for me.
I don’t belong anywhere.
I have no purpose.
This will never work.
I must be perfect.
It’s too late to pursue my dream.
The battle against fear begins in your mind. With all of the negative thoughts, where do you turn? How do you overcome fear?
A discipled leader overcomes fear through faith. He or she understands that fear or faith will rule their hearts and minds depending on which one they feed the most. If you feed your fears, they will dominate. If you feed your faith, fear will diminish. Activate your faith and seek God in times of despair, doubt, panic or terror. Here are a few suggestions for how to do that:
Pursue God: Pray, worship, and read his word. Lean into and earnestly seek him. The Bible says, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4 ESV). If you pursue God in the midst of fear, he’ll encourage, strengthen, and deliver you.
Take refuge in God: God will provide protection and safety in times of distress. The Bible says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1 ESV). Look to him and he’ll shelter you.
Stop the negative self-talk: “Take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV). Make the intentional shift toward more Christ-centered and positive thoughts every day. What if your self-talk sounded more like:
Because of Christ, I am worthy.
I can lead.
I am successful.
I’m good enough.
I’m loved and cared for.
I do belong.
I have a purpose.
This will work.
I can make mistakes.
It’s never too late to pursue my dream.
Fear is infectious, and followers won’t support or commit to you if they sense fear within you. On the other hand, courage is just as contagious, and people will follow if they see courage within you.
Are you struggling with fear? Learn from my experience and practice the above principles. I learned that if you pursue God, take refuge in him and stop the negative self-talk, you will overcome your fears and become a courageous leader!
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My team and I were invited to a strategic business partner’s corporate headquarters to think about what’s possible and innovate. I viewed the trip as an excellent opportunity to retreat, bond as a team and shape our future.
I approached my manager, Kevin, about the opportunity. He hesitated and then said, “Most trips like these end up being boondoggles. Do you think you’re going to accomplish anything?”
“Yes, I do. I’m confident that we’ll come back with fresh ideas and take our business to the next level”, I replied.
Kevin said, “I have my doubts. I tell you what, put together an agenda with specific objectives and I’ll take a look. If I agree with your proposal, I’ll okay the trip.”
“Great and thanks. I’ll come back to you shortly”, I said.
Over the next few days, I collaborated with my team and our business partner to develop a very specific agenda and desired outcome. Then, I shared it with Kevin. A chronic micromanager, he asked us to make multiple changes to the plan. Once the topics were aligned with Kevin’s feedback, he begrudgingly agreed to let us go.
My team jumped into action and made the necessary coverage arrangements to ensure we could break away with limited distractions. We activated our email out of office messages notifying internal customers that we were out for a short time and provided backup contact information.
The next day, we loaded the van and headed to our destination. My team was beaming with excitement and anticipation. They’d been on trips like this before and understood the potential our retreat held. As we drove, we connected on both personal and professional levels. We talked optimistically about how we could advance our vision of being industry leaders and indispensable partners.
When we arrived, we were escorted into our business partner’s innovation lab where all of the futuristic designs inspired us. Next, we moved into a creative thinking lab to begin formulating ideas and developing plans.
Then, the first email hit… And another… And another. A series of 10 or more emails from Kevin appeared on our iPhones within 30 minutes. He was following up on projects, providing feedback and checking in… Just to let us know he was there.
His last email’s subject line read, TURN OFF YOUR OUT OF OFFICE MESSAGE.
In the body of the email, Kevin wrote that having our out of office message turned on sent the wrong message to leadership and internal customers. It was our job to be accessible at all times regardless of what we were doing or who was covering for us.
I thought to myself, “Ugh. Really? If that isn’t micromanagement, I don’t know what is.”
I looked around the room and saw discouragement, frustration, and anger on my team’s faces. Some became distracted and anxious. Everyone began to disengage from the creative thinking discussion mentally.
At a break, I gathered my team to ask their thoughts about the emails. They shared with me that they went to great lengths to ensure our time away would be productive and distraction free. They wondered if it was a mistake to take the trip. Kevin’s micromanagement tendencies surfaced, and the team felt disenfranchised.
I understood their concerns. I asked the team to return to the meeting and told them that I’d gently respond to Kevin’s emails. I asked them to not make a mountain out of a molehill and turn off the out of office messages. Lastly, I asked them to stay focused on the purpose of our meeting and ignore distractions.
The good news is that the team returned to the meeting and developed a visionary plan. Also, I ran interference by answering Kevin’s emails and asking the team to turn off the out of office messages. By engaging Kevin on behalf of the team, I was able to assuage his need to feel in control. We didn’t hear from him again during our trip.
Micromanagers can be burdensome. I know from personal experience. Here’s what I learned:
- Remember Who You’re Working For– If you keep your eyes on God and embrace the fact that you’re ultimately working for him, you’ll maintain a positive attitude regardless the circumstance. The Bible says, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” (Colossians 3:23 NLT)
- Submission Is Key– It’s easy to work for a great boss. The hard part is working for and submitting to a bad boss…. But when you do, God is pleased. The Bible says, “You who are servants, be good servants to your masters—not just to good masters, but also to bad ones. What counts is that you put up with it for God’s sake when you’re treated badly for no good reason. There’s no particular virtue in accepting punishment that you well deserve. But if you’re treated badly for good behavior and continue in spite of it to be a good servant, that is what counts with God. (1 Peter 2:18–20 – The Message)
- Bite Your Tongue– I disciplined myself to communicate in a positive way and to not show irritation if I became frustrated. The Bible says, “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” (Proverbs 15:1 – NLT)
In spite of desperate circumstances, I grew leaps and bounds during the three years I worked with Kevin. I learned to cope with his management style in the short term. Eventually, I realized that Kevin’s style and mine weren’t compatible, the intense micromanagement I experienced wasn’t sustainable, and I decided to move into another role.
I challenge you to apply the above principles, and if you do, you’ll manage through a micromanager.> Read More
The phone rang. I stared at it with anxious anticipation. The call I’d been waiting for would reveal my future with the company. I’d been through a series of evaluations and interviews to keep my current job. As my heart began racing and sweat beads formed on my brow, I answered the phone.
“Hello, this is Preston.”
“Hi. This is Ted. I’m calling to let you know…”
If you’ve ever worked in a corporate environment, you may have received a similar call. And, you’ve experienced the effects of organizational change – uncertainty, layoffs, or downgraded compensation. I’ve been through 10 restructures in my career. I liken the process to running for Congress – every two years you’re up for re-election, and if you’re elected, you begin your next campaign immediately.
The topsy-turvy corporate world can be exasperating and disheartening. It can bring one to utter despair. The challenge is to remain hopeful. You might say, “But Preston, I hear all the time that hope isn’t a strategy.” If hope isn’t a strategy, what is it?
Hope is a general feeling that some desire will be fulfilled, a promise will be kept, or a better future is on the horizon. Hope provides internal energy, motivation, and courage. I’ve heard it said that someone can live 40 days without food, four days without water, four minutes without air, and only 4 seconds without hope. Why is hope such a crucial part of life and your well-being? It energizes and inspires you to keep going. Without hope, you will begin to think circumstances will only get worse and give up.
How does someone remain hopeful in the midst of challenging events?
Pray – For the Christian, start with connecting with your source of hope, God. Take your concerns to him and seek his guidance.
Don’t lose heart – In tough times, continue believing that you can succeed. Think about your past achievements and recount your strengths. The circumstance doesn’t define you. Seek God, and he will strengthen you. Jesus’ words provide confidence, “In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:33b – The Message)
Manage Self-Talk – Did you know our thoughts shape our beliefs and actions? Our challenge is that 7 out of 10 thoughts we have are negative. Stop listening to the lies you tell yourself and focus on your strengths. Replace the lies with the truth. What would happen if you increased the number of positive thoughts to 5 or 6? How? When self-doubt creeps in, and I’m experiencing despair, I’ve found it helpful to pause and say an affirming phrase ten times to myself. It helps change my mindset from negative to positive. For example, instead of saying to yourself, “I’m a weak and unworthy person,” say “I’m a strong and worthy person.” Or, rather than saying “I can’t do anything”, say “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. Change your “I can’t” to “How can I”? Also, set your mind on constructive thoughts. The Bible says, “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8 – The Message). If you do these things, you’ll win the battle of the mind.
Keep a long-term perspective – Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. Remind yourself that life is a journey and challenges are opportunities to grow. The Bible says, “These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever” – (2 Corinthians 4:17–18 – The Message). Keep your head up, look to the horizon, and expect a positive outcome in the long run.
Face reality and take responsibility – Accept the fact that life can be backbreaking. Then, objectively evaluate your challenging circumstance and define the problem you face. What’s the worst that can happen? What are all of your options? How can you improve upon the worst? Once you answer these questions, take ownership. Embrace the opportunity to change and intentionally determine to grow through the circumstance. Think, “if it’s to be, it’s up to me.” As a person of faith, I prescribe to the thought, “work like it’s up to me and trust God like it’s up to him.”
Plan, act, and persevere – Once you’ve faced reality, taken responsibility, and determined the best option, be intentional and go for it. Put a plan together. Develop goals and move in the direction you’ve chosen. Look for quick wins and build momentum. Above all else, never give up. If you plan, act, and persevere, you’ll begin to experience success. The road ahead will be different than you expected, harder than you anticipated and potentially more rewarding than you imagined. My mentor, John Maxwell says, “Everything worthwhile is uphill.”
Back to my story… I picked up the phone and said, “Hello, this is Preston.”
“Hi. This is Ted. I’m calling to let you know you will be retained by the company.”
I’ve gone through the cycle of uncertainty to certainty many times. As you may recall, I wrote earlier that I’ve been through 10 organization restructures. As I write this article, I’m currently in the midst of my 11th org change. Once again, I’m struggling with all of the self-doubt and uncertainty that comes with the unsettling circumstance. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I do know that God is faithful and I’ve placed my hope in him. Whatever does happen, I know that he is good and will lead me to where he wants me.
My friend, when faced with a dire circumstance, my charge to you is to pray, not lose heart, manage self-talk, keep a long-term perspective, face reality and take responsibility and plan, act, and persevere. If you do, you’ll be filled with hope and succeed in whatever path you choose.
How about you? Where do you place your hope? How do you make it through tough times? I’d love to hear your story. Thanks for reading and please share this message with someone in need of hope and encouragement.
 Maxwell, John C., Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn, Center Street, Hachette Book Group USA Day One 2013, p. 93.> Read More
I’m a disciple of Christ and an executive at a Fortune 500 Company. In my blog, The Discipled Leader, I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work.
As a certified coach, speaker, and trainer with the John Maxwell Team, I help others grow their relationship with Christ, develop their leadership skills, and understand how they can make a positive difference in today’s chaotic world.
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