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December 14, 2021

The Road to Growth Part 1: Am I Scattered?

What is the most important part of a journey? Is it the destination? Having a clear sense of where you want to go? Is it the path? Having clarity on the road you will take? Is it the drive? Having a certain sense of momentum that keeps you moving forward? 

Actually, all of these are significant for making a meaningful journey – particularly a journey of transformation. Our purpose, path, and passion work together to move us into positive, permanent change. However, they do that best when we know whether or not we have them. Moreover, we need some sense of the degree we have or know them. This assessment then functions as the a final key component of a journey: the starting point.

In this blog series, I’m going to provide you with a self-assessment overview. It is going to help you decided if, and to what degree, you know your purpose, and your path, and if you have passion. First, we investigate Purpose. In the first two blogs, we ask “Am I Scattered?” and “Am I Focussed?” to evaluate the level of meaningfulness in our lives. Then, in the next two blogs, we’ll turn to our Path, and we ask, “Am I Unsure?” and “Am I Firm?” to evaluate the level of motivation in our lives. Finally, in the last two blogs, we think about our Passion and ask, “Am I Stuck?” and “Am I Fearless?” to evaluate the level of momentum in our lives.

Toy pieces scattered on the floor

“Am I Scattered?”

So what is a scattered life? We are scattered when our sense of purpose is diffused or even absent. That diffuse or absent sense of purpose comes with any number of symptoms. Here are three symptoms to provide a starting point for assessing if you scattered. For instance, are you spinning around like a weathercock? Or are you focussed? Are you heading toward a destination that pulls your life together and channels it toward meaningfulness? Keep reading and find out.

Dispersed Energy

A scattered life is one where we ping pong back and forth between what feels like a million different projects. Everything looks like an opportunity that we are afraid to miss out on. Consequently, we say ‘yes’ to almost everything. Other people and their requests or expectations start to determine where we put our effort and energy; and so, we begin to look like a hosepipe with hundreds of holes punched in it. We ramp up the pressure in the system (the amount of energy we’re putting into our life and tasks); but our energy just sprays out in all directions with none or little hitting whatever we’re aiming at. In the end, we finish a week exhausted yet wonder what on earth did we accomplish? 

At its worst this constant dispersal of energy leads us to a place where we begin to hoard our energy. We measure it out in small, controlled amounts to the hundreds of demands made on us. This coping strategy helps us keep from completely burning out but it leaves many of the things that used to excite us abandoned or languishing on the margins without ever seeing substantial progress. If you experience that terrible feeling that you’re dying a death of a million paper cuts, you are probably scattered.

To evaluate yourself against the symptom of dispersed energy try the “Do I disperse my energy?” self-check quiz.

Tunnel Vision

blue lit tunnel

A scattered life is one where we navigate our world with a limited field of view. We see what is immediately before us but not much else. We dial in on what is necessary for ‘me and mine’ to get through the day – whether that’s our family, our colleagues, our ministry, our team, our project, our church members. Moreover, we start to fail to see the bigger picture, the ways in which the small things we do should (and actually do!) connect up with the big things in life like our values. We sense that important things are going on around us, and so we ramp up our alertness, but we’re like blinkered horses that shy at flies. The result is that anything that comes to us suddenly, from out on the periphery, trips our alarms and puts us on the defensive. 

At its worst this constant living with tunnel vision (which may be an expression of compassion fatigue) begins to harden our hearts to other people, their interests, needs, and perspectives. We use this coping strategy to keep from being overwhelmed by the thousands of needs we can’t address; but it pushes us to divide up the world into camps of ‘us’ and ‘them’. If you find yourself becoming cynical and/or suspicious about the sincerity of other people and the legitimacy of their concerns and needs, you are probably scattered.

To evaluate yourself against the symptom of tunnel vision try the “Do I have tunnel vision?” self-check quiz.

Tyranny of the Urgent

red lights hanging

A scattered life in one where the tyranny of the urgent drives us. We spend our days either extinguishing fires (dealing with this or that immediate issue) or fire-spotting (constantly surveying our surrounding relational- and work-landscapes to see where fires might be about to breakout). Everything is about managing the present crises of each day, but the problem is everything looks like a crisis. As a result, we lose the ability to filter and determine whether or not an issue/problem is something we actually need to act on; and so our ‘disaster response’ is on a hair-trigger. In the end, our week is spent trying to outrun the avalanche of whatever is the most immediate, most urgent, most demanding; and we live with the constant nagging feeling that somewhere there is something important that we’ve forgotten to do.

At its worst this tyranny of the urgent has us constantly functioning out of our surge capacity – our ‘disaster response’ resources. This network of systems is designed to help us get through traumatic times of crisis. But living out of it day in/day out, month in/month out, as a coping strategy, continually drains those resources. As a result it becomes more and more difficult to respond to things that are genuinely important but lack the urgent time stamp. Eventually, it leads to burn out. If you find the important things in your life, which require a rhythm of quiet and long-term attention, are slowly starving and fading out of existence, you are probably scattered.

To evaluate yourself against the symptom of the tyranny of the urgent try the “Am I driven by the tyranny of the urgent?” self-check quiz.

The Death of Meaningful

If the descriptions of these symptoms sound familiar, or you used the self-check quizzes and the results raised some red flags, you might very well be scattered. Obviously, a scattered life certainly don’t sound pleasant; but why is a scattered life truly problematic? The answer is simple.

All of us want a sense that the things we care about and we invest our time and energy in – our whole lives, in fact! – are meaningful. A scattered life in which we disperse our energy, where we stumble through our days with tunnel vision, and where we are thoroughly dominated by the tyranny of the urgent is one that leads to the death of meaningfulness.

You don’t need to be content with a scattered life. There is an alternative. You can find focus for your life – a unifying sense of purpose that provides a measuring-stick to evaluate opportunities, a broader vision that keeps the margins in sight, and a shape to your life that is bigger than a particular project, ministry, or career.

If you were scattered but now you want to find your focus, coaching can help. Make an appointment. Or, read the next blog in the series: “The Road to Growth: Am I Focussed?”

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