The Well Balanced World Changer
Sarah Cunningham has one piece of advice for leaders who want to be taken seriously, who want to be validated by their peers or in their field.
“Get out there and lead. If you want to be seen as legitimate, go out there and put in the hard work and time to do something legitimate.” She insists. “Have you ever met a socially awkward person at a party who, within sixty seconds of meeting them, managed to tell you that their IQ was 182? It annoyed you, right? You don’t want people to announce to you how smart they are. If they are really smart, if they spend their lives in smart ways and say smart things, you’ll catch on all by yourself.”
But a lot of leaders just striking out make a similar mistake. “They start vying for spots on the mainstage at conferences. They want to be the ones whose essays are chosen for some book compilation. And on and on. And they let the world know it. When they aren’t selected, they write open letters complaining about the people who were chosen or publish blog posts about feeling overlooked. They tell their friends how exclusive the group running some organization that didn’t invite them to participate is.”
Sometimes organizations are unhealthily exclusive, Cunningham admits. But a lot of times, she insists, the problem is that those longing for a place in the spotlight haven’t earned their spots yet. “Rather than write a jaded letter to a conference organizer, every time you get overlooked, take it as more motivation to keep taking risks, keep working hard, and to put in your time. Show people you aren’t just a flash in the pan idea, that you aren’t going to be fading out of the picture two years from now. Earn their respect.”
Sarah’s book, The Well Balanced World Changer: A Field Guide for Staying Sane While Doing Good, is a collection of dozens of 2-5 page essays that are brimming with similar wisdom, illustrations and what she calls “sticky stories” that provided a breath of fresh air along the way as she pursued her life and ministry ambitions.
Below I asked Sarah a couple questions about the book.
Q: I see the book is endorsed by leaders of a lot of conferences–Brad Lomenick, Ben Arment, Charles Lee, for example. Is the content geared toward those communities?
A: Well the book is primarily for people of faith or humanitarians who are striving toward a specific vision, so I do think it is safe to say that the kind of people who might attend a Catalyst or a Q or another event in that genre, would find some material that is like…painfully relevant…to their lives and causes. But the book isn’t just for the innovative people leading the charge. I’d love–maybe even more so–for the book to provide a breath of fresh air for those people who are quietly serving in their non-profit or local church year after year…often under-appreciated and under-paid but pressing forward just the same. We’re all contributing to the way this world functions together and the wisdom in the book comes from a variety of people from all walks of life, some spotlighted and some living ordinary lives hidden from the public eye.
Q: Can you give me one example of a principle that might apply equally to anyone serving God and others, regardless of position?
A: Sure thing. There’s an essay called, “Getting Attention Isn’t the Same Thing As Being Admirable.” In our news-happy culture, it can be easy to get caught up in the numbers game. To feel good about ourselves when we’re getting a lot of blog hits, when our events are sold out, when the media is covering our latest effort or when people are talking about us. Whether we’re on a stage in front of thousands or we’re talking to a Sunday School class of ten people, we want to see people smiling, nodding, eyes glued on us. We want their compliments after we finish our spiel.
But when we use “getting people’s attention” as a validator, I think it disservices our souls. Car wrecks get attention, when cops show up at the neighbors’ domestic dispute, it gets our attention. It turns heads. It gets people talking. It makes the headlines. But is it something to be celebrated? Is it honorable? No way. Sometimes attention may reinforce that what is stirring in us is right and true, but sometimes it may just reflect that we’re making a lot of noise. We can’t afford not to know the difference.