working against the tide

Do you ever feel like you are “swimming up-stream”? Have you sensed that the door you hold open has a strong tension-spring that will slam it shut as soon as you let go? Have you ever felt like your hard work and passions are like a sand castle that is completely washed away when the tide comes in?

I have been struggling a lot with those kind of feelings the last few weeks. In a past leadership position, I gave my best effort to bring about a culture change that I believed in strongly. Some of what we encouraged was team leadership, women valued and developed equally with the men, integrity in character and finances, and a willingness to honestly evaluate results.

Together with my husband, I tried to lead by example; brought in resources and training; honored those co-workers who demonstrated the values we cherished, and celebrated the environment and growth that resulted from our efforts. It was hard work, there was resistance and personal attack, and we paid a price physically, emotionally, and relationally.

We were also incredibly blessed with encouragement and support from partners, mentors, and the thrill of changed lives. At the time, I thought the dream of healthy relationships and a healthy organization was worth the pain.

Sadly, today looking back on that time, I question more… so much of what we “built” is gone. Many things are different; environment, people, results… I wonder, did my hard work really accomplish anything? Was the up-hill climb good for only short-term, superficial change?

I have learned a lot about working as a leader. Now I need to learn about letting go. I need to live with the tension between desire for a legacy… and contentment with having given my best when it was my turn.

Do you have any tips for me? What do you do when your hard work is washed away?

12 thoughts on “working against the tide

  1. I wonder if it weren’t a blessing to the godly kings of old Israel and Judah that they died before seeing what happened after their reign. But, as always, we do what God asks us to in the moment and trust the results to God. We put in the hours and the sweat and the tears, but it is God who changes hearts and organizations and cultures.


    • Interesting perspective, Amanda, and so true! I am learning daily that it is not up to me to change anyone but me… and even that requires God’s power and grace! Thanks for the encouragement!


  2. This seems to be a common leadership experience (which does little to diminish the pain and frustration of the experience itself – so I do not mean to minimize the anguish). But that it is a common experience points to something Janice and I were discussing the other day about how God shapes leaders. I can point to a significant tide in my own experience that seemed to wash my best efforts into the sea of meaninglessness – an organization I had great vision for, gave great effort to and spent great intercession and emotion. Yet my efforts by my reckoning failed. Years later and in quite an unexpected way the lessons (overt and implicit) I learned from that experience have seasoned me in such a way that I now find myself in the center of an organizational change that is accomplishing everything I wanted to see before.

    What is different? Without writing a whole article – the difference is something that happened in me that is best described as seasoning or tempering – the fire of the past has strengthened me in ways that I was unaware until new fire exploded. Forgiveness exercised in the past worked a deep resilience to go along with that strength that stayed engaged in the middle of the chaos and simultaneously remained steady in a contagious press for health. Change is a by-product of the quest for healthy relationships. I find now something comforting in the reality that endurance and forgiveness make such significant marks in how a leader matures.

    The depth of your legacy has begun and will emerge as your own endurance and forgiveness find consistent expression over time. Your experience is in fact one of the boundary times effective leaders go through (versus remain stuck in). I am moved by the pathos because I understand it and I am encouraged by the development because I see it. Thanks for putting this into words.


    • Ray, I hope you will write a whole article… sometime soon! You have been an incredible encouragement to me – a mentor who believes in me as I am today… and challenges me to always grow to more tomorrow. I see that God is definitely seasoning and tempering, healing and restoring. I most likely have more forgiving still to do… and then more fighting (perhaps mostly on my knees) for what I believe in… i am so grateful for the example you – and Janice – are to me.


  3. Perhaps our earthly perception of work being “washed away” is different than God’s? What if every day we simply live out full obedience, humility, love, and justice to God’s glory? We may not see a tower w our name etched in stone, but we will hear a “well done, good and faithful servant”. Okay, so you know that I too have struggled with this, and am directed by the Holy Spirit to take a look from the place where He stops me, tells me to pause, turn, and look. And He does it almost daily…because I need it.


    • Yes, friend, I am certain His perception is very different from mine… and He graciously redirects me through His Spirit, His Word, and His community… and gives me hope! Thanks for being a part of that!


  4. Antes de leer lo que Ron escribió pensé lo mismo. Has dejado un legado en nuestras vidas y eso cuenta más porque ten la seguridad que lo reproduciremos en nuestras familias y donde quiera que Dios nos ponga. Creo que eso es más valioso, que sólo se quede en una organización o estructura. Steve y tú han invertido para la eternidad 🙂


    • Mil gracias, querida amiga! Tus palabras son como joyas para mí. He recibido algunos comentarios similares durante esta semana… y aún antes, Steve y yo hablando llegamos a la misma conclusión. 🙂 La vas a ver en el blog siguiente! Dios me ha animado con esta verdad… las vidas cambiadas valen mucho más! Y me dan más gozo también. También tú has invertido en mi vida y la vida de muchos más – no lo olvides! TQM! Un abrazo!


  5. Great post, Terry. I have had similar feelings. I think we need to value the legacy built in the lives of people wherever they are serving now, even if they are not still in the structure we left behind. We value very highly the work and legacy you left behind.


    • Thanks for the encouragement, Ron. You wrote almost the exact words that I have processed in the last few days – and that I have written for next week’s post. 🙂 I appreciate you too – you have created a great legacy in structures and people – including our lives!


  6. That is SO HARD! “contentment with having given my best when it was my turn.”…..Emotional today and feel like it is ALL “upstream”. …but you are a good example to me…thanks for the encouragment. love.


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