When I was growing up, my mom, brother and I would visit Grandaddy Milholen. We usually took doughnut holes and stood around chatting while he snacked on them, offering us some.
On one of these afternoon visits, his sister Stell barreled in and announced, “R.F., I came to see you, but I can’t stay long. Groceries are in the car. I had to stop at Food Lion on the way or I would’ve had to make a left hand turn. And you know how I feel about a left hand turn.”
Even as a kid, I saw it was hilarious for a grown person to plan a driving route around only turning to the right, and I stifled my laugh with a quick cough. I made eye contact with my brother and looked away before we both went into a laughing-coughing-cover-up fit. Even our mom had a twinkle in her eye that said she was holding back.
True to her word, Aunt Stell didn’t stay long. Then we finished our visit and headed to the car. My mom, brother and I laughed about left hand turns all the way home, and it became a punch line we still use today.
I was thinking about left hand turns this week when my laptop told me it was time for an update. I hate making updates. It can mean I’ll have to learn something new and make some sort of adjustment even though I’m perfectly happy with the way things are now. Most of my adult life I’ve been a late adopter to technology and kind of proud of it. The same way Aunt Stell announced her commitment to avoiding left hand turns - as if that was the most sensible thing in the world.
But what if I never gave in and updated technology? I’d still be typing on a blue screen in Word Perfect.
A while back, I was speaking at one of those lunches where leaders come together to think and talk about some leadership topic that will hopefully be useful to them in their organization. We spent an hour talking about 4 ways people make decisions and what happens in interactions when members of the same group use opposing decision-making processes. Afterwards, a pastor came to me and said, “Can I be brutally honest with you? I might not be the right person for this job.” When he looked around the room during that training session, he felt so different from the rest. They seemed to thrive on structure and organization, but he was overwhelmed with his workload. He felt pulled between what he experienced as dreaded administrative and programming demands of running a church and the real desire to be with people in his congregation. Those administrative tasks were his left hand turn.
I knew it was a matter of time before I heard from a different pastor in that room who would say something like, “I’m not sure I’m the right person for this job,” because she feels pulled between what she experiences as the dreaded obligation of being with people in the congregation and the real desire to organize healthy and thriving structure and programs. The socialization required in that job is her left hand turn.
We all have something in our lives like Aunt Stell’s left hand turns, those things everyone else seems to be doing just fine. But we don’t have to organize our lives to avoid turning left. We can face that thing we find intimidating and develop the skills we need to address it. Here’s how.
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