Never Say Never

By Linda Tancs

Whenever I hear someone express a negative belief about being able to accomplish something, I’m often reminded of one of my favorite quotes attributed to the philosopher Goethe:  “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.” Negative beliefs often surround the subject of going back to school at a later age. Consider a 50-year-old who says: “I can’t go back to school now. I’ll be 54 when I graduate.” Well, you will be 54 (or whatever age it is) in any event. Growing older doesn’t take any talent or ability but it’s all the sweeter if you find opportunity in change. This point was aptly illustrated in a newspaper story about an older woman who elected to rise above some very challenging circumstances and attend a community college. She became homeless after losing her job, lost all her possessions when she couldn’t pay the storage facility, surrendered her children to relatives for their daily care and lost three loved ones to health issues within a single year. She remarked that if she could persevere through school as a homeless person, then anyone with a home could do it, too.

So what causes a person to visit Neverland and take up residence there? Oftentimes, something in the past holds the future captive—a negative life event that leaves one hopeless or depressed and unable to move forward. Conversely, prior success many install fear in a person that the best of times are already behind. In either event, Proverbs 23:7 reminds us that as we think, so we are. So forget the past (Isaiah 43:18), and look to God to lead you in the present (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Never say never; it’s as simple as that.

Living the Life You’ve Imagined

By Linda Tancs

Are you living the life you’ve imagined? If not, why? Is it lack of courage—or encouragement? First Thessalonians 5:11 exhorts us to encourage each other and build each other up. Let’s face it, though; it’s easy to play it safe. But as the expression goes: no guts, no glory. Take a look at the excuses you use to keep from realizing your dreams. I’m too old (or young)I don’t like riskMy family would never approve. I don’t have enough money. I don’t have enough influence. It’s all been done before. I’m not that talented. What excuses do you make? We all have hopes and aspirations. The next time you contemplate yours, be very conscious of the excuses that creep into your thoughts. Chances are, you haven’t given them much thought or even accepted them as excuses because they’ve become so much a part of your daily thought process. Or you may have “inherited” one or more of your favorite excuses from a potentially well-intentioned friend or family member. However, excuses derive their power from you—and only you. God’s Word gives you the power to banish them. As Ephesians 4:23 says, renew your attitude.

Renewal requires you to challenge your excuses. Sure, many folks will say, “It’s not an excuse; it’s actually a fact.” Take, for example, I’m too old. How can you be sure of the truth of this statement? Like a detective, seek the evidence that bears it out. In other words, be sure to separate facts from feelings. Do your homework. How many others with aspirations like yours accomplished their goals at the same age—or even older? In New Jersey, a 96-year-old woman obtained her high school diploma. Look for stories on your topic on the internet, in business journals, blogs, social networks and so on. Only after you’ve exhausted your fact-finding mission and found no evidence to refute your excuse should you even think about accepting it as a cold, hard fact. If that’s the case, then consider whether your statement is really more a reflection of your own lack of desire to accomplish something. Are you striving towards your own dream or trying to achieve something for someone else?

There’s no need to waste time with excuses based on someone else’s agenda or your own actual (rather than conjured) limitations. In all other cases, continue to think big and look for inspiration. Remove the word can’t from your vocabulary (Philippians 4:13). As the writer Frank Scully once remarked, “Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?”

Waiting for Success

By Linda Tancs

Jonathan Winters, the comedian and author, once said: “I couldn’t wait for success, so I went ahead without it.”

This approach is the antidote to “paralysis by analysis.” So many times I hear people say, “Failure is not an option.” This thinking is usually what leads to paralysis by analysis: analysis of all things, great and small, that could possibly go wrong with an idea, a goal, a business venture—life. What if I don’t get any business? What if don’t get any repeat business? What if I lose the lease? What if I lose my shirt? And the list goes on and on.

Fear is the driver of this kind of analysis. Until the power of fear is broken, we remain a slave to it (Romans 8:15). Fear counteracts faith, and that is why it is such a powerful tool in the arsenal of the enemy. But 2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us that we have not been given a spirit of fear. What we do have is a soul (our mind, will and emotions) that hosts fear when it comes. Our best response is to deploy Psalm 118:6 (NLT): “The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?”

Waiting for success is as futile as waiting for a rainbow after every storm. As Nike’s slogan so effectively puts it, “Just do it.” What do you want? In the business universe, four concerns are generally paramount: develop clients, build revenue, build a reputation, become a leader. Which concern, if any, resonates with you? What do you need to do to get what you want? If you’re stuck, then imagine yourself a year from now having all that it is that you want. How did you get there? Work backwards. What are the goals that you met? Who did you meet with along the way? Who played a role in your success? Write it down. Build a timeline. Construct a vision board. What else can you do? God won’t drive a parked car. With His guidance, you have all the answers. Now, get busy. You needn’t wait for success. You can go ahead without it.

The Power of Yes

By Linda Tancs

“Don’t rain on my parade.” How many times have you thought, or muttered, that phrase (or know someone who has) when confronted with a naysaying friend, colleague, family member or significant other? The effect of naysayers on the psyche is particularly acute for entrepreneurs, many of whom leave behind the relative security of a well-paying job for the chance to experience something new. Is it a smooth transition? In many cases, no. What makes it even harder, though, are those dreaded words—“You can’t do that!”—uttered from well-intentioned family or friends determined to save you from economic ruin. Have you ever wondered why the same people who tell their children that they can do or be anything when they’ve grown up throw a wrench in someone’s works when their dream changes mid-career? In circumstances like this remember that you can do all things through Christ who is your strength (Philippians 4:13).

The Bible reminds us not to be judgmental nor to put obstacles in someone’s way (Romans 14:13). So the next time a friend, family member, significant other or even stranger confides in you a dream about trading in that management job for a microphone at a comedy club, remember the power of ‘yes, you can.’

Managing Career Transition

By Linda Tancs

For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words. —Ecclesiastes 5:3

For many, that dream involves a transition from one career to another—and all the associated stress and anxiety. Can I succeed outside my comfort zone? Do I have the technical and educational skill sets to find viable employment in another capacity? How will I manage my fears and expectations and those of friends and family? Take heart. There are many things you can do to prepare for a rewarding second career. With a little God-guided introspection, you can retool your career to align with who you were created to be.

First, take stock of your skills. First Corinthians 12 reminds us that each of us has been given unique abilities to accomplish His will, such as the ability to give wise counsel, heal, speak foreign languages or possess specialized knowledge. List your own skills according to categories such as organizational talent, problem-solving prowess, managerial skill and oral and written communication abilities. Note the environments in which these skills are deployed—at home, at work, in your community. Your task, then, is to determine how your skills are related to serving God. After all, only skills used in advancing the Kingdom of God will yield a satisfying result. Is your track record more aligned with material success or service to others? As Ecclesiastes 5:10 (NIV) warns, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.”

Second, consider how your career moves have impacted your life. Proverbs 20:5 (NIV) says, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” Indeed, as the saying goes, you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. What are your five most significant achievements and defeats? Which actions are you willing to own on your part that brought about those successes or failures? Understanding what it is that brings about a successful result for you will give you the confidence to try new waters. Conversely, finding your weak spots will show you what needs work to avoid making the same mistakes in a different milieu. Do you need help identifying your strengths and weaknesses? Pray for guidance. Take your questions and concerns to God first, and the answer may come through a trusted friend or colleague who knows you well.

Third, build a transition plan. Putting thoughts into words and words into actions will help you manage your anxiety. How much do you know about your target occupation? Where can you go to learn more? Are there business or behavioral competencies you need to acquire to make it work? Proverbs 21:5 says that the plans of the diligent lead to profit. Think about where you see yourself in five or ten years, but remember to leave room for God to change those plans. In all likelihood, that’s why you’re in transition in the first place.

From Nothing to Something

By Linda Tancs

How much faith would it take to move a mountain? According to Matthew 17:20, that which amounts to the size of a mustard seed will do. Given that a mustard seed ranges from approximately 0.039 to 0.079 inches in diameter, God asks very little of us in the faith department.

Our faith journey is a lot like the life cycle in the production of a mustard plant: germination, leaf development, stem elongation, inflorescence emergence, flowering, fruit development, ripening and senescence. Of course, we often get stuck at the planting stage. We doubt that germination will ever occur or, if it does, it might not be to our liking. We plant thought or word seeds that undermine our progress and impair the trust relationship we seek to have with God. Seeds need fertile soil to grow, the right conditions to manifest. It’s no accident that Jesus used a seed to make His point. And it’s more than just the concept of growth happening in a dark place. Arguably, the seed is the most powerful symbol on earth. What could be stronger than a seed? It pushes through the toughest elements—rocks, stones, piles of mulch—and yet is unthwarted in its mission to germinate.

Are you determined to nurture seeds of faith? Faith is strengthened by understanding God’s Word. Consider the parable of the sower that Matthew recounts in chapter 13. A seed sown along the path is akin to the Word of God that is not understood by the listener; it’s easily manipulated by the devil. A seed falling on rocky ground is the Word left unpracticed by the listener. It takes no root and is easily forsaken when trouble comes. A seed falling among thorns is the Word choked by worldly concerns and thus unable to bear fruit. The Word that is heard and understood is like a seed sown in fertile soil that yields a good harvest. So using our plant analogy, you’re more likely to flower and ripen if you don’t get choked by thorns. What are the thorns in your life? Do you trust God to bring you to victory?

Now back to that mustard plant. Which stage of the life cycle are you in? How did you get there? Where do you need to go next? Make it to the harvest (senescence) by renewing your mind daily with His Word.

How To Approach Bible Reading

By Linda Tancs

The Bible is rich in precepts for daily living. So how do you go about harvesting that bounty? In the first instance, try not to focus on any particular order from which to read the Bible. Some will insist that the only appropriate way to approach biblical study is to start with Genesis and read all the way through to Revelation. Others might suggest beginning in the New Testament with John’s distinct Gospel and general orientation in the prologue (John 1:1) or with a synoptic gospel like Luke’s “orderly account” (Luke 1:3). Perhaps a better strategy is to approach the Bible with the goal of understanding its key themes, the main characters driving the narrative and the life lessons it presents. This strategy is consistent with a scholarly view that the Bible’s role is both to mediate God’s word of law and gospel and to serve as the fundamental source for shaping and maintaining Christian identity.

However, like any strategy, there are pitfalls or issues to keep in mind. First, a work such as the Bible written thousands of years ago presents obvious culture gaps—religious and social practices of Jews and early Christians that on the surface may not resonate in contemporary society. Nonetheless, history has a way of repeating itself, a fact masterfully executed by Luke in his Gospel by drawing parallels between the Old and New Testament. In this way, Luke emphasizes that God is always present—yesterday, today and forever—a key theme that drives our formation as Christians.

Likewise, biblical stories may comprise the reporting of actual events, historical fiction, parables (like 2 Samuel 12:1-6 in the Old Testament or Luke’s parables in chapter 15 in the New Testament) or an allegory like Isaiah 5:1-7. It may be tempting to get mired in identification of each account in the Bible or perhaps debate whether the account is real or historical fiction (such as occurs with the Book of Jonah). Regardless of the characterization of a biblical account, the most important point is that the truth about God and his relationship to His people can be conveyed through any type of literary device.

A third issue posed in Bible study involves translation and interpretation. As Nehemiah 8:8 (NRSV) states, “[T]hey read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation.” Indeed, the Bible is one of the most widely translated and interpreted works of all time, beginning with its rendering from Hebrew to Aramaic, the common language. In addition to that translation, the Bible has been translated into Greek by the Jews and into Latin by Christians. Today, at least 12 common English translations exist (from the King James Version to the New Living Translation), along with scores of amplified Bibles giving additional background and definition to terms used in the Bible. Eliminate confusion arising from the different translations and versions of the Word by remembering that translation is not an exact science; the translator’s point of view is likely to shape the translation. The humanity of Scripture is that it evidences the work of fallible humans pressed into service to reveal the Word of God. Your own personal interpretation will be informed by your religious heritage, education, ethnic background, life experiences, gender and opinions.

Don’t Feel Stuck

By Linda Tancs

Many folks are stuck in a job they despise for any number of reasons including economic need, fear or a perceived lack of transferable skills. If you can’t change jobs, then you must change your attitude. Colossians 3:23 (NIV) is a good place to start: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” After all, your skills and abilities are a gift from God. What you do with those assets is your gift to Him. When you perform your tasks without grumbling or arguing, you shine (Philippians 2:14-15). In other words, you demonstrate for others the value in work, and your positive attitude rewards not only yourself but those around you and gives glory to God.

So how do you put biblical injunctions like these into practice? Begin by asking yourself—what worked for me? Most people enjoy a honeymoon phase in the early stages of a job. What was it that made the job enjoyable or enticing in the first place? What has changed? Often this kind of introspection brings about a realization that it’s the de-motivating aspects of the job getting you down rather than the entire job. Try to find ways to tame the more unpleasant aspects of your employment. Understand first of all that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses; don’t resort to comparisons among people who might excel at what you detest (Galatians 6:4). If you’re able, reassign tasks, collaborate or find another position or department within the company where you can make the highest and best use of the skills you do have. After all, if you’re working at your highest level of motivation and efficiency, you’ll feel empowered rather than “stuck.”

The Only Way Out is Through

By Linda Tancs

British swallows spend their winter in South Africa after having traveled south through western France, across the Pyrenees, down eastern Spain into Morocco and then across the Sahara.

As often happens with life, we can learn many things by taking a look at the natural world. So what does the swallows’ journey show? In a nutshell, it’s that the only way out is through. The birds’ seasonal migration illustrates perseverance. They don’t avoid the route; they accept it—or risk their lot by staying put under conditions that foster the migration in the first place.

Humans, on the other hand, are hard-wired for shortcuts. It takes many forms. We call it the path of least resistance, the easy way out. It affects mental reasoning and even physical performance (think of all those keyboard shortcuts). What route in life are you avoiding, or attempting to short circuit? Maybe it’s a new business plan to replace the failing one. Or a new career trajectory to make better use of your skills and interests. Perhaps it’s a relocation or improved parent/child relationships.

Did Moses find a “workaround” to avoid leading the Israelites through the Red Sea (Exodus 14:15-22)? Did Joshua abandon the conquest of Canaan, which took years to complete (Joshua 11:18)?

Timing is everything. Getting through, rather than just getting by, takes patience. Even the swallows don’t fly non-stop. They pause to rest. It’s a matter of patient endurance, summed up nicely by John Greenleaf Whittier, a 19th century American poet, in his poem Don’t Quit:

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,

When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,

When the funds are low and the debts are high

And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit,

Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is strange with its twists and turns

As every one of us sometimes learns

And many a failure comes about

When he might have won had he stuck it out;

Don’t give up though the pace seems slow—

You may succeed with another blow.

Success is failure turned inside out—

The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,

And you never can tell just how close you are,

It may be near when it seems so far;

So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—

It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

Now get through it. What’s waiting for you on the other side?