The Law of “Throwing Them Open”: How to Lead a Person into Maturity

people playing american football
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My 9 year old son just told me he is excited because he just completed his next piano lesson book. My wife, a gifted pianist, teaches all of our children piano. In our home, our children have no choice but to learn piano. There is no discussion about it. It is an automatic assumption that as each of our 4 children turn 5 or 6 years old, they begin taking lessons from their mother. Our youngest is about to turn 5, so 3 of our kids are already well on their way to being gifted musicians. As my son briefly discussed with me about the work that he and I both have to accomplish today, he said something that astounded me, and led me to discover a law of human interaction that has driven our parenting for the past 11 years: I will call the law “The Law of Throwing Them Open”.

My son turned to me and said, “Its so weird. When we are busy it seems like 30 minutes goes by so fast. But when we have nothing to do it seems like time goes by so slowly.” What he said next is what made the lightbulb turn on for me, “It’s like relativity.” He said it nonchalantly. I couldn’t believe my ears. Did my 9 year old son just correctly make a connection between life and a complex scientific idea that most 9 year olds would not even know about. I couldn’t remember who came up with the idea of relativity, so I asked him to clarify. He said, “It’s like Einstein and the law of relativity.” Wow. How does my 9 year old think so deeply. He turned and went back upstairs, leaving me pondering.

In the NFL, the best quarterbacks are ones who are able to complete a high percentage of their passes. If you ever watch the NFL, you will occasionally hear the broadcasters talk about how the great quarterbacks will throw their receivers open. It sounds strange at first, but it actually makes a lot of sense. The idea of throwing a receiver open refers to when a quarterback will see that a receiver is being very well covered by a defender, and so the quarterback will throw the ball to a spot where he sees the defender could not get to but his receiver could. When done correctly, by throwing the receiver open, the quarterback is leading the receiver into being successful, instead of waiting for the receiver to be successful. We can learn much about leadership when we apply this concept.

Whether you are parenting, managing a team, or any kind of leading of others, you can either wait for those you are leading to demonstrate they are ready and mature enough for increased responsibility and recognition, or you can give them increased responsibility as a tool to help them to mature. Like the great quarterbacks, it is the difference between waiting for someone to mature on his own, and leading someone to mature by leading him to where he needs to go.

The more I pondered my 9 year old son’s unusually mature relation of real world experiences to the theory of relativity, the more I realized this has been a consistent law of leadership at work in my own life over the years- both how I successfully led others, and how others have led me.

You can also see this concept at work with great teachers. I have a degree in education and a lot of experience teaching people. I have consistently observed over the years that the best teachers are the ones who keep their students engaged during a lesson or lecture by moving at a fast pace. When I have struggled to keep my students engaged and interested, it is often when I am moving too slowly through the content, and boring them to death. That is when behavior problems and students’ immaturity is most likely to rise to the surface. However, when I move at a fast pace, setting high expectations for their development and growth while still making the content understandable, that is when my students are interested and engaged, and when they mature in their learning.

I can see how this law of leadership has worked itself out in my parenting as well. We expect a lot out of our children. Don’t get me wrong, we also want them to have a full and fun child’s life. But we also don’t want them to grow up with standards that reflect the lowest common denominator of maturity and development. So we expect and demand obedience from a very young age. It has been our goal that by the age of 5 or 6, our children have mastered the idea that they have been born into a world of order and authority, and they are expected to submit to that good order and authority in their lives. Around the age of 7, we begin giving our kids a household job to do, careful to use the word job and not chore. Chore has a negative connotation. We want to teach them from an early age that a job is a good thing that reaps benefits when done faithfully. We are certainly imperfect in our execution of this law. But as a whole, I have seen our kids mature as we strive to lead them into more mature roles and responsibilities.

When I have excelled in life in different roles and capacities as a leader, it is when someone above me in leadership has decided to not wait for me to demonstrate that I am a strong leader already, mature in every way necessary to lead. Instead it is when they have seen some leadership or maturity qualities necessary for the job at hand, while not yet developed fully, and then they decided to hand over increased responsibility to me and assist me in growing and maturing into the role or responsibility they have given me. Like the great quarterbacks who don’t wait for an open receiver, but lead their receivers into success, great leaders will set high expectations for those whom they lead, causing them to mature and develop, instead of holding them back.

My son was able to make a real world connection with Einstein’s law of relativity because we expect much out of him as a learner. When he slows down in his schoolwork, we push him more. We work hard at teaching him that he can do far more than he thinks he can do. In a sense every day we are striving to throw our kids open, instead of waiting for them mature on their own.

Should You Believe in Yourself?

Belief is a powerful thing. What we believe about any one thing will directly affect how we interact with that thing. If I believe the floor is sturdy, I will stand on it without questioning or even thinking of its integrity. If I believe something is dangerous, even if it’s not, I will be more careful when interacting with that thing. An example of this is being under a car. No matter how strong, sturdy, or secure a car is when it is up on a lift or pulled up on a set of ramps, I can’t seem to shake my fear of it falling on me when I am underneath it. Recently I was changing the oil on my Ford Explorer, which has tires big enough that I can crawl underneath the vehicle without having to lift it at all. Even though the truck was not lifted and was resting on its tires on the ground, when I was underneath it draining the oil, I could not shake my fear that the tires were going to burst in that moment and the truck was going to fall on me and crush me. What we believe about anything affects how we act when interacting with it.

This is also true about what we believe about ourselves. When we believe we can do something, we will try it. When we believe we can’t do something, we will never try it or give up quickly. This is why, as a teacher, I often saw my students, and still see my own children, quickly give up when working on something that is difficult and then just sit there, waiting for “help” instead of struggling and trying on their own. Similarly, we humans foolishly choose paths in life too often based on these false perceptions about what we believe is true about ourselves, which have no basis in reality. I have made many life decisions in the past 20 years of my life based on a false understanding I had about myself which I now call the poverty mindset, which was based entirely on a myth that I was not worthy to be counted as successful by society’s standards.

That is what the content of this blog symbolizes for me. An internal change in my beliefs about myself.

Believe in yourself. For some of you that seems like not a very profound statement. Not me. As a Christian for most of my life, I have always wanted to be careful to not ascribe to statements that would compete with all glory going to God. I used to go to a church that was very intent on identifying the right things to say, and which highlighted a very close link between your beliefs and your actions and words. This church was full of wonderful people and I learned much and developed a love of Jesus there that I never had before. However, this church also instilled in me an overly critical mindset. When someone would say something like “Believe in yourself.” I was trained to instantly identify that as a heretical statement. For, humans are only sinful wretches and offer nothing good. We shouldn’t believe in ourselves, we should believe in Jesus; He is the only one worthy of our trust.

Like a good follower, I always reacted to the “Believe in yourself” statement with instant criticism. I would not fall into that trap of believing in yourself. No way. The problem with my commitment to never condone the “believe in yourself” mantra is that I have also always struggled with lack of confidence around fellow adults, especially other guys. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake this lack of confidence.

I believe there is a direct link between my religiously-based rejection of “Believe in yourself” and my lack of confidence. Could it be that it is okay to “Believe in yourself” and still be a faithful Christian who wants to glorify Jesus in all you do?

Not too long ago, as I wrote about in a previous post, I stumbled upon the story of how Matt Nagy, who was just voted NFL Coach of the Year in his first season as the Chicago Bears head coach, rose to become an NFL football coach. Nagy’s story and example of how he lives his life has been inspiring to me. During games he carries with him a large laminated play-calling sheet. In big words in one corner are the words, “BE YOU!”. He told some reporters that he tries to live by that saying. That if he is going to fail he will fail giving it his all while being who he truly is. That struck a chord with me, and continued me on an exciting journey. I began more deeply reflecting on my life and who I am and how I got here.

In my full time job I am a Realtor. I used to be a middle and high school teacher, but left teaching for various reasons two years ago to be a full time Realtor. Having always struggled with self-confidence, especially around other guys, I felt very frustrated with myself that I had not accomplished more in my life and gone further in any given career.   As I began to self-reflect with honesty and began asking myself some hard questions, I began to realize that I had what I call a poverty mindset, and this poverty mindset was limiting my ability to grow.

A story about an encounter I had with someone while I was serving with my wife in the church nursery caring for babies on a Sunday morning best captures one of the major causes of my confidence struggles, and sheds light on the solution. As I was speaking with a fellow church member who was serving in the nursery with us, he was telling me about being unemployed and how hard that had been for him. At the time, I was a teacher at a small Christian school making $20,000 per year with no benefits. My wife worked as a stay-at-home mom and we had two boys under the age of 5. We struggled to pay the bills. As this guy was telling me about his own struggle of unemployment, he said, “This year has been hard. It is the first time in my life that I have never made at least $100,000 in a year.” My jaw dropped. I was working 50+ hours per week making a poverty income and had to pick up a job stocking shelves at night and on the weekends for an additional 15 to 20 hours per week just to pay our bills, and this dude is complaining to me that he hasn’t made $100,000 this year?! Who does he think he is?! How arrogant of him to say that to me! Doesn’t he know who he is talking to? Those were my thoughts after his comment.

For several years after that I was pretty ticked off at the guy. You see, when someone believes it is wrong to “Believe in yourself.” and they struggle with self-confidence, they put powerful and low limits on what they can accomplish. This was an amazing scene. The other guy believed in himself and I didn’t believe in myself. So his comment was very offensive to me because I did not believe that I would ever make that much money in my life.

My family grew up poor by American standards. My father never finished high school. He was a very good man who did the best he knew how to care for and provide for his family, but he was not very well equipped. We moved from house to house growing up. We would get behind in rent and we would be forced to move to a new rental home. Consequently I changed school districts about every 1 to 2 years. By the time I was in 8th grade I had been in 6 different school districts. Consequently my grades were also bad. My dad did not effectively teach me to be disciplined. My mother worked very hard to teach me self-discipline but I was a stubborn, resistant child. Furthermore, I remember there were many times when our power was shut off for days or weeks at a time, or we had no hot water and we had to boil water to take a sponge bath or take a cold shower.

My dad struggled with a lot of insecurity as well. He was often borrowing money from people and unable to pay it back. He created a low self-image for himself and our family and projected that low self-image onto others. I recall one time I was sitting in the bleachers around 12 years old at a church softball game in which my dad was playing. A couple of young men in their early twenties sitting right in front of me began making fun of my dad behind his back unaware of my presence. When they realized I was sitting behind them and could hear them, they seemed embarrassed but said nothing to me. I understood who we were and that identity became my identity. When my dad was finally able to buy a home for the first time when I was in high school, he then had it repossessed when I was 19 years old. This way of life was generated out of a way of thinking within my dad, and I was brought up in that same way.

So when this man in the nursery lamented having not made $100,000 for the first time in his life, it offended me because he was supposed to know what I already believed, that he was talking to a failure whose lot in life was to always struggle to provide for his family. That was the way I saw myself. I wouldn’t dare to allow myself to believe I could make $100,000 per year, and if I did dare to think that might be possible, I certainly wouldn’t let anyone else know I was thinking it. They might mock me and think I was crazy. After all, it is me we are talking about here.

This whole mindset was supported out of a belief that it is wrong to “believe in yourself.” I would never let myself ascribe to the “believe in yourself” mantra. It was a couple of years after the $100,000 comment that I began to slowly realize that I am no different than the other guy, and I can give myself permission to think big and dream big. I continued to teach another 5 years at two other schools before I decided that if I was ever going to break this low self-image, and earn enough money to truly provide for my family, that I would have to leave the teaching profession altogether and pursue a career which had an uncapped earning potential. So I became a full time realtor. Ever since then I have been on a journey of slowly identifying ways I am still living in the self-inflected poverty mindset and trying to break down those false barriers I have constructed preventing my own success.

Then I learned of Matt Nagy and his rise to head coach. Nagy was selling homes as a realtor when he had a chance to become an assistant coach in the NFL. Something about his “Be You” slogan, his self-confidence, and his risk-taking struck a chord with me. Around the same time, I stumbled across a book entitled The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by a Christian man named John Maxwell. In the book, he urges his readers to believe they are dignified humans with a lot more potential than they realize. He spends a lot of time encouraging his readers to believe in themselves. This challenged me. How can a Christian writer be saying we should believe in ourselves. Believe in Yourself? Could it be that it is okay for me to believe in myself. That I can do that without compromising my faith in Jesus.

That I can confess to be a sinner in need of God’s grace while also believing I am a human created by a creative God who has given me certain gifts and qualities that are good and worthy to be developed. Yes! Something clicked. 

When I realized it was okay to be a Christian and still believe in myself, my gifts and abilities, and that I have great potential to accomplish great things, it was like something clicked inside of me. The potential to excel and accomplish great things, and earn enough to provide for my family has always been there but I lacked the ability to access it. I suspect I will be continuing to gradually uncover ways I have limited myself by believing something was impossible for me. I suppose living in the reality that it is okay to believe in yourself will be a lifelong journey in which I have to uncover many old barriers I need to break down, but I now have access to the right mindset to break down those barriers. If you or someone you know has struggled to believe in yourself/themselves, I hope this post will be an encouragement to you. I hope you will realize that no matter where you come from, you truly are a person created by God with dignity and the potential to do more than you realize. The first or next step for you just might be to believe in yourself.

Writing Goals Is Stunting Your Growth

Have you ever considered the possibility that being goal oriented might be limiting your overall growth. I know, sounds crazy right? Everyone talks about the importance of setting goals, writing them down, looking at them regularly in order to accomplish them. This is what I have been doing lately. However, this morning I was challenged by John Maxwell in his book, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, where he challenges his readers to stop setting goals and instead be “growth-conscious”. The concept is astoundingly insightful.

He describes setting goals as limiting or putting a cap on our potential. In this short section, he outlines the differences between someone who is growth-conscious versus someone who is goal-conscious.

“If you’re goal-conscious, you focus on the destination. Whereas if you’re growth-conscious, you focus on the journey. Goal-conscience motivates you and others; growth conscious matures you and others. Goal-conscious leads you to be seasonal; whereas growth-conscious leads you to be lifelong. Goal-conscious challenges you; whereas growth conscious changes you. Those people who are goal-conscious stop when a goal is reached. People who are growth-conscious keep growing beyond their goal.”

This concept has hit me like a ton of bricks, challenging me to rethink my growth as a human. It was so opposite to what is typical for good advice that I thought I would share it with you today. Consider transitioning from being goal-oriented to being growth-oriented. You may find yourself growing in ways you hadn’t seen before.

Update on 1/18/19

I don’t mean to say that writing goals is bad or detrimental, and I don’t think that John Maxwell would say that. I think that writing goals can be very helpful. But John Maxwell’s point seemed to be about the mindset we have. We may use goals to grow, but we must live with a growth mindset instead of a goal mindset. A growth mindset will help us grow far beyond our goals.