How do we change?
I’m 34 years old, have four kids, and have been in the workforce for 9 years. And for me, there is no more pressing question in my life today than How do I change?
In the past three years, the stress of leading a growing organization, trying to be a good father, and accomplishing my professional goals has exposed, well, cracks in the foundation of my character. My precious wife has been so patient with me as I stumble, fall, and get up again – only to find myself back where I started.
As I’ve spoken with peers about their lives, careers, and relationships – especially young professionals in Denver and Boulder – I’ve seen common traits among many of us:
In the last three years, I’ve felt each of these feelings acutely. Changing any of these seems daunting for me. Yet what’s interesting to me is that in the first year of the 5280 Fellowship, I’ve seen genuine change in the lives of 27 men and women:
Why is this? Where is this change coming from?
When I designed the program, to be honest, I kind of had a chip on my shoulder about my previous educational experiences. I loved reading and ideas, but I couldn’t stand reading 500 pages of a boring book, writing a paper about an esoteric topic, or listening to professors lecture for hours without ever asking what I thought. I also developed an affinity for older books (and shorter ones!) that had stood the test of time. Better to build my life on the great ideas and traditions of the past than the latest fad that had become popular in the academy.
In my years after graduate school, I also came to value the primacy of learning from people: people who are further along in their careers, people who have had different training than I have, people who are influencing key conversations across different sectors in our city. Jesus wrote nothing, but he instead gave us his church, a group or people. I could now see why. People were just as important “texts” as were books. And through the Holy Spirit, God actually lives in people.
Moreover, as I grew in my career, I saw myself imitating leaders I knew, and putting into practice what they were feeling and doing, far before I understood the concepts behind their actions.
I also began the incredibly hard process of self-knowledge. Only in the past several years have I really started to plunge deeply into how I react in stressful situations, how I come off in front of others, why I feel energized or exhausted, and the impact my own emotions have on everyone around me.
The Fellows program has been designed for those of us in our careers who long for a deeper change that technical training can’t provide. We built in elements into the program that take into consideration the breadth of what human being is. We are relational, social, physical, emotional, intellectual, habitual creatures who are environmentally-shaped, embedded in culture, and designed for work, for others, and for God.
So what does that mean? In the 5280 Fellowship, it means:
Tough thing about the program: it’s a big commitment over nine months. And it’s only for those who are serious about change. But here’s the truth: technology is fast, but character formation is slow. And we can’t do it alone. We need each other.
As I was interviewing two of our senior leaders last month during a Saturday teaching session, I closed the session, and looked up to our Fellows and said, “I just want to say one thing. Seven months ago you were strangers – but I now call you my friends. I genuinely love being a part of this community. Thank you. I needed it.”
Change seems impossible to me most days. But following Easter week, when I recall the empty cross and the light-filled tomb – and the growing community of faith in the metro area – I’m filled with hope.
Jeff Haanen is a writer and entrepreneur. He founded Denver Institute for Faith & Work, a community of conveners, teachers and learners offering experiences and educational resources on the gospel, work, and community renewal. He is the author of An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life and an upcoming two-book series on spiritual formation, vocation, and the working class for Intervarsity Press. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Denver and attends Wellspring Church in Englewood, Colorado.