Me and The Syllabi Syndrome (too much too fast)

The Syllabi Syndrome is the overwhelming experience of being presented all your work in a short period of time. Maybe like me you experienced this in college. It’s the first week of classes and each professor provides you their class’s syllabus. But you take more than one class. So, over your first two days of classes, you have 5-6 syllabi (I learned the plural of syllabus is syllabi in college).

Bolded deadline dates from your five classes looks intimidating.  That overwhelmed feeling is Syllabi Syndrome. When experiencing said syndrome it doesn’t matter that all the work is not to be completed in a week but over a four-month period. Or you’ll learn to skim the two thousand pages of reading that’s required.

Instead, you see and feel the expectations of five professors all at once. And you think to yourself, “How I am ever going to get this done?”

The Syllabi Syndrome is not limited to the freshman college experience. It’s for all of us who have entered a new situation, and in that new situation, feel like there’s so much to be done. So many people to meet. So many details to follow-up on. So many expectations!

I’m suffering from Syllabi Syndrome now. I have a new job. New church. New home. New city. New state…you get the idea. So, to self soothe and perhaps provide some practical takeaways for some of my readers who are in a similar situation (or will be), I’d thought I give some thoughts about how to maneuver through it.

When you’re faced with a lot of “new” in short period of time and feel the need to find a pathway to performance…

  1. Take a deep breathe. Literally and figuratively. Literally, long deep breaths have many positive effects. You can read about those through smarter people than me. And figuratively, create some margin to back away from the tyranny of the urgent.
  2. Set simple systems. Don’t take it all on at once. Set short-term low goals. If you have two thousand pages to read, well, you have four months in your semester to read it. So, take 120 days divided into your 2,000 pages to be read, and you have your short term low goal of reading 16 pages per day.
  3. Get commitment clarity. Avoid committing to anything that’s not required. When people give you things to do, seek clarity. Am I required to this? If so, what’s the timeline? You may learn what you think is required or expected, was closer to a suggestion and really shouldn’t even be considered.
  4. Remind yourself you’re not indispensable. Particularly if you’re having the syndrome feelings in a new job. Remind yourself that you haven’t always been here, and in most cases, they were managing without you.
  5. Look for sympathy, better yet, empathy. Find people who have been in the same situation and get a little perspective from them. They’ve been there the previous semester. They’ve been the new guy or gal on staff. They know what it’s like to drink from a fire hydrant. And they also know the fire hydrant eventually runs out of pressure.

So, if you’re experiencing this made-up syndrome like I am, then join me in using these steps to get out of it.

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Next Steps

Step one was hard. It required faith muscles that had become atrophied in me. And as I wrote previously, step one could be described as an irrational step. Our next step will again be a faith step, but it’s one my wife and I felt God has given us clarity about.

Our family’s next step is actually closer to three million steps. Or, 1,684 miles west back to my wife and I’s home state of Arizona. We each loved growing up in Arizona and we love our extended family who lives there. Yet, we never really thought we would end up back there (our other two moves had us move 1,000 miles and 600 miles east away from Arizona each time). So a desire to “go home” was not the draw in this decision. Probably because our last two churches had become “home” because of the people who loved and cared for us there.

I’ll be joining the staff of Wellspring Church in the “West Valley” area of Phoenix, Arizona (meeting in the city of Goodyear). Wellspring Church was planted just over four years ago. Wellspring has already seen some pretty cool things happen in its short life, and we feel called to come alongside them and serve with them.

In most ways, the staff position will be pretty different from the position I’ve most recently had at Brentwood Baptist Church—maybe figuratively as different and as far as Nashville is from Phoenix. I will continue in many executive pastor roles but also have broader engagement in other parts of Wellspring.

In these recent months of determining what’s next, unbeknownst to us God was reconnecting and re-energizing relationships that began 22 years ago (when I joined the staff of North Phoenix Baptist Church). One of those relationships was with fellow staff member, Chris Stull. And now Chris is the Lead Pastor at Wellspring.

Through the year Chris and I have stay connected. And now what I can see were serendipitous moments, we’ve connected personally at important moments of my life. For reasons I can’t explain, I’ve gotten the privilege to serve great pastors (my dad, Stephen Hatfield, Mike Glenn), and now I’m excited to serve with Chris.

Wellspring has a strong staff and a lot of committed and called people in their congregation. People who have a commitment to have a church in the West Valley that reaches the lost (Phoenix is the 12th most “unchurched” city in the United States). Couple that with Phoenix being the fifth largest city in America and a lead pastor who is uber-gifted in faith and leadership; and I get excited for the challenge and to see what God may do in the West Valley of Phoenix.

(More personal note: There’s a lot of details to be worked out, including the selling of a home. But if the timing works as we’d like it to, we’d let the kids finish their semester here locally and make the move late this year. We’re grateful for prayers, especially for our kids.)

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The Pride In Our Busyness

What if busyness is caused by our pride?

The Killer P’s are a part of pastor and author Kevin DeYoung’s reason behind the state of busyness most of us live in. Reading his book Crazy Busy would be worth your money and time (it’s cheap and “mercifully short”).

DeYoung first points out there are no “quick fixes” to busyness. Especially as Christians, because “We ought to know better [than quick solutions] because we understand that deep down that the problem is not just with our schedules or with the world’s complexity—something is not right with us.”

And in the “Killer P’s” chapter of his book, he argues that typically the “thing not right” with us is a manifestation of pride. He says “Our understanding of busyness must start with one sin that begets so many of our others sins, pride.”

In a brief two pages, DeYoung names twelve manifestations of pride related to busyness. But to even be briefer than he, let me do a Dodridge-download on just four of “the P’s” that tend to manifest in my life (and perhaps yours).

4 Killer P’s

Pats on the back. This is living for praise and DeYoung says it’s often motivated by a “desire for glory.” Now, must of us would not say we’re doing things to pursue glory. But can you hear yourself saying this sentence DeYoung wrote, “If I take on this extra assignment, I’ll be a hero to everyone in the office.”?

But we often look for pats on the back at work, which often means our glory-seeking has a deficit effect at home. If we’re glory-hogs at work, well, that will mean we’re too busy to be our best in other places.

Pity. If we let everyone know how busy we are, well, they’ll feel sorry for us…they’ll take pity on us. If our busyness generates sympathy and pity, then that means we’re getting attention. Because of the sinfulness of pride, for some reason someone saying to you, “You work so hard, I bet it’s really hard to find time for yourself” seems to create a buzz for us. Rather, it should be a shock effect to say “Get out of that rhythm!”

Power. DeYoung’s associated statement for power is, “I need to stay busy because I need to stay in control.” The lie we tell ourselves is that in order to fully control something and get the desired results, we have to control every part of it. And to do that, well, we keep everything under our watchful (busy) eye. This leads to becoming an indispensable person (I’ve written on the dangers of that before).

Position. When I read DeYoung’s associated statement I knew he had named one of my Killer P’s. It’sI do too much because that’s what people like me are supposed to do.” Can you hear yourself saying that?

This is where our intentions can sound good, even God-glorifying. But ultimately it’s a prideful way of recognizing our own contribution to something. You may be the responsible one in your workplace. You’re the person who goes the extra mile. You’re the execution ninja! But each of those good qualities have a shadow side, and these good qualities become manifestations of pride quickly. And once you start these prideful expressions, it further perpetuates the feeling of you needing to keep up the standard of busyness.

Busyness can become an identity. It may be how you’re known. We hear people say to us, “Oh, you’re always so busy” and we feel both a sense of pride and sense wanting anything other than busyness for ourselves.

Be brave enough to name the “killer P’s” you’re prone to.  Name it (them) and then ask for help with your pride. Ask God to speak to you his version of what busy looks like. Ask a friend to call you out when they see you manifesting the killer P’s.

Busyness doesn’t have to be wrong or sinful, but if pride is the source of that busyness, well…

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