Friday, January 11, 2008

How Do You Treat Up and Comers?

An email conversation with a Minister-Angel has me thinking about how treat up-and-comers (in any profession) and how I've been treated as a seminarian, by ministers.

My father was a middle-manager for the latter part of his career.  I went to his retirement party and there were people there who had worked with him 20 years previous.  It seemed like everyone there had a story to tell about how my gruff Dad had helped them rise in their careers.  Some of it was tough love -- like when he took a young hotshot out and told him that he needed to dress better and speak correctly -- but always, it was encouragement.  I don't think he ever felt threatened, even as they went on to bigger and better things.  (He managed salespeople and as often happens in that field, his employees frequently earned more than he did.)  He celebrated in their successes.

In my pre-family life, I was the young hotshot, in the field of marketing.  I had one boss who fell into the insecure, threatened category and that was misery, I can tell you.  But I had three other bosses who championed me, guided me, and celebrated my successes.  Probably not coincidence, the three "encouragers" have gone on to have fabulous careers, whilst the insecure bully has not.

I haven't had any lengthy contact with ministers, as a seminarian.  But the difference in reaction to me introducing myself as a seminarian has been quite interesting.  So far, the reactions have always fallen into two groups:

The Encourager:  this minister reacts with a warm smile, interest ("Where are you studying?"), and words of encouragment.  S/he seems genuinely happy to meet someone who is going down the path.

The Chill:  this minister either gives a slight, patronizing smile ("Oh, you want to be a minister.  How cute.")  or -- more bewildering -- gives a quick, dismissive nod, as if what you've said has absolutely no relation to them.  It's quite bizarre, and I'm not entirely sure that I'm projecting when I say that the air drops 20 degrees and I suddenly become invisible.

Not that I exaggerate.

I have fussed at myself over the latter before -- "What, you expect this very busy person to drop everything they're doing and throw roses at your feet???  Hi, the world doesn't revolve around you!"  But then I'm around An Encourager and it makes the difference more dramatic.  Really, it doesn't take more time to give a warm smile.

So, I'm trying to give attention to myself and whether I'm unconsciously giving encouragement or a chill to others.  I saw someone (probably on Oprah) talk about how she tries to smile whenever her child comes into the room, because so often, we frown -- need to comb his hair, straighten her dress.  But that frown or that smile are being seen by the child and they take it as an expression of your feelings about them.

I have people that I can encourage.  What power!  What an opportunity!  May I use it with love.



jules said...

i have felt the chill and patronizing smile from a UU minister before as well. Not that I'm a seminarian but when i mentioned I was planning to enroll at Starr King for the Layity program, not only did I get the chill and smile but the obligatory eye-roll as well.

Perfect description of the feeling received when it happened...("Oh, you want to be a minister. How cute.")

Ms. Theologian said...

If I recall correctly, I think my experience as a seminarian was quite similar. Perhaps because of the number of UU seminarians in Boston (Do UU ministers feel besieged by UU seminarians? I wonder), but the encouragement that I can remember was rare. :)

Jess said...

It was the same in Chicago when John and I first got there -- two local ministers were relatively supportive and he did his internship with one of them, but a third was notably frosty.

Lizard Eater said...

Phew ... I was afraid it was just me. That a memo had gone around to all ministers with my picture and "Warning: This person is completely unsuitable for the ministry and should be given no encouragement! Don't feed the seminarian!"

Okay, ministers, 'fess up ... I know that rabbis are supposed to turn potential converts down 3 times. Is there a similar UU ministry policy?

(If there is, thankfully some nice ministers have broken the code.)

Anonymous said...

I don't think there is a turn them down three times policy, but I do think there are certain times (think GA) and places (in those communities like Ms. T mentions) where we are besieged. And sometimes one of us is just having a bad day.

And, if you think that once you are serving a congregation (or community) that the average congregant doesn't offer the same challenge (freezing/encouraging) well, you'd be mistaken! Which is all to say that a big seminary/formation learning may well have to do with "it's not all about you" and it's a lesson I've needed to learn more than 3 times!

Seeking mentors is vital to success in ministry. And when you find the good mentors and colleagues, encouragement will come. Good wishes!