Who took your impact? Who took your joy? Do you want them back?
If you've got a strong calling to make the world a better place, chances are you've also had some times in your life when you really felt stuck--when you felt like you weren't showing up as your best self and making anything like the progress you aspire to. And chances are, whenever you've felt like you were coming up short in your calling, you've also come up short feeling joyful and fulfilled across lots of other areas in your life. That's the flip side of having that calling--it doesn't let you rest when you're not leaning into it!
In my own journey, and with many of the social entrepreneurs and philanthropists that I've coached and advised I've seen a common pattern of how we can get stuck like this.
In this post we're going to walk through these six "obstructing angels." Kind of a funny phrase. But think of these as guardian angels gone wrong--obstructing angels are certain recurring states of mind that hold you back--even as they are making a misguided attempt to protect you. The key is that we all have the same essential, egocentric human needs--for safety, for significance, for social connection, for excitement. No matter what, we all find a way to meet these needs, even if the vehicles we use for doing so are negative, rather than positive. And there's a deeply rooted part of us that doesn't want even the least little bit of risk or change in our lives just in case this interferes with whatever it is we are already doing to meet these core needs.
This is why lots of folks live out their entire lives stuck in the same old social and emotional patterns. And why we have all kinds of common sayings like "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" about how hard it is for people to change. But here's the thing--if you've got a calling to make the world a better place, that calling won't let you just settle into your comfort zone and stay there. You keep feeling the pull that there's a bigger contribution you can make, that you need to grow and challenge yourself in order to rise to this calling.
So here's the pattern that I've seen in myself and some of the folks I've coached--it could be that the way you get stuck looks different, but see if you recognize some or all of these recurring states of mind in yourself.
The Six Obstructing Angels
Have you ever felt like you don’t have clarity on the concrete steps you need to take in order to realize your vision? Or maybe you’ve struggled to articulate the vision itself—do you feel that calling to make a bigger contribution in your bones every day, but you have only a general sense of the direction you need to go in order to live out that calling? Do you find yourself starting each day in your social media feed or your email inbox, trying to figure out what you should be doing next?
2. Procrastination and Busy Work
Have you ever struggled to take consistent action on the most important elements of your vision, even when you KNOW these are the things that are truly most important to move yourself forward? Have you ever set aside time on your calendar to write your book, to map out your strategic plan, to reach out to the key contacts that you most need to engage—only to find yourself doing ANYTHING but that most important thing when that time on your calendar rolls around? Do you feel like your calendar is always fills up with something, and that during “regular working hours” you can’t let yourself slow down for even a minute to read for pleasure or sit and think without feeling like you should get back to work?
3. Exhaustion and Overwhelm
Do you reach the end of each day with nothing left, just desperate to numb out, whether it’s reaching for a drink, or more episodes than you planned of your latest binge on Netflix or Amazon? Do you stay up too late, reading yourself to sleep? Are you waking up in the night with your mind racing, getting up in the morning feeling exhausted and wondering how you can make it through another day? Do you ever feel like delivering on your calling to make a difference in the world is getting harder and harder, and that you’re showing up a day late and a dollar short across all the important areas of your life?
The sad truth is that these first three destructive angels can put you in a powerful holding pattern—you can really get stuck in a daily cycle of confusion, procrastination and exhaustion that just rinses and repeats from day to day. And when you do get stuck like this, that’s when the other three obstructing angels tend to set up shop, leaning in over your other shoulder.
Do you ever feel like you’re not showing up as your best self with your colleagues, your friends or your family? Do you find yourself getting irritated beyond measure at the least little thing, lashing out and then regretting it almost immediately? Or do you find yourself withdrawing and holding back while your inner voice fulminates about all the failings and disappointing behavior of those around you?
When the flash of anger fades do you find yourself feeling guilty and sad about hurting those around you, and not living up to your best self? Do you feel like you are not living up to your potential, not doing justice to your calling to contribute your very best to the world? Do you feel uncomfortable, mixed emotions when friends and colleagues celebrate milestone accomplishments—you are genuinely happy for them but it also makes you feel bad about yourself and why you’re not further along with your own goals and mission in life?
6. Self Absorption & Tunnel Vision
This last obstructive agent is often a consequence of the other five—a self absorbed state of mind that causes you to lose clarity on your larger vision. This tunnel vision makes it harder to see the larger systems in which you are embedded. Have you ever felt like you get so caught up in your own story, your own goals, your own challenges, your own tragedies and triumphs that you often don’t notice the larger systems operating around you, consistently producing the stumbling blocks that you have to work so hard to overcome through your own daily efforts? Do you ever wonder if the work you are doing every day is actually connected to leverage points that are powerful enough to transform the deeply entrenched unjust systems you say want to change? In those moments when you do get a jolt of clarity do you ever have a sinking feeling that you yourself may have a role in perpetuating the very systems you say you want to change?
Fear is the gear that drives this whole cycle.
These obstructing angels are all rooted in the fear that we won’t be able to meet our needs if we start making changes to ourselves and our circumstances. Fear that if we start showing up in a different way the world won’t meet us there, we will be rejected, unworthy, lacking, and that we will fail. So better to continue on day to day making it work in some fashion, rather than to take the risk of venturing into the unknown in pursuit of our highest selves and our highest contribution.
The good news: Stay tuned for the Six Foundations of Joyful Impact in the next post
Whether you suffer from some or all of these obstructing angels in your own journey as a change agent, you can break free of them! There is powerfully convergent wisdom and research about human flourishing that comes together across millennia, all kinds of faith traditions, philosophical and scientific perspectives and points to six areas to focus on as foundations of greater impact and greater joy across all the areas of your life.
The next post will lay these out, and give you an overview of lots of the tools, techniques and resources we use with coaching clients to make progress in each of these six key domains. You can access these tools and resources for for free anytime you want in your resource library--just click here to create an account if you don't have one already.
Sign up below to receive free access to the Joyful Impact Members Area, where you can access all kinds of learning materials and content to help you step up your game as a change agent.
These are the same materials we use with the social entrepreneurs in our accelerator program and the funders we coach one on one. The world has never been more in need of a new, greatest generation of change agents and that's why we're opening up free access to these materials to anyone who's ready to make use of them!