Vocational Discernment — It’s about WE, not ME

adult chill computer connection

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I enjoyed time at a conference on the intersection of faith and work earlier this month (see: Karam Forum).

One of the themes that arose multiple times was the importance of community in flourishing economies and in the lives of flourishing individuals. The concept of human flourishing is about growth and development. The best flourishing, however, does not happen in isolation—it happens within the context of a community where we are able to use our gifts, skills, and abilities in service of others.

It is tempting to think of our careers, jobs, and vocations through an individualistic lens, though. Consider such questions:

  • What do I want to do with my life?
  • What type of work do I most enjoy?
  • What are my passions, interests, and desires?
  • How can my passions, interests, and desired be most fulfilled in the context of my work?

These are not bad questions, they are simply incomplete. Vocation is not primarily about “I”, “my”, and “me.” Vocation—the most fulfilling and meaningful forms of vocational stewardship—is more about “we” than “me.”

Certainly, we need to reflect on vocation from a personal perspective, but the most fulfilling forms of vocational stewardship that lead to human flourishing involve deep reflection on how our work will serve others, not just ourselves. Tom Nelson referred to this as the “we-ness” of our work.

When vocation is primarily about me—what will be most enjoyable to me or what will most quickly build my wealth—work becomes merely functional and utilitarian.

We work is about we—how I can use my gifts and skills to contribute to the benefit of others—work becomes fulfilling and infused with great meaning.

In their book Practicing the King’s Economy, Rhodes, Holt and Fikkert remind us that “Every road to the economy of the kingdom runs through the creation of community.” Our work and vocation do not find their meaning and fulfillment in isolation. Vocation becomes rewarding when we consider how we utilize who we are and what we are able to do in service of others. In diverse expressions of work, we find the most fulfillment in our vocation when we see how our work connects to and meaningfully serves others.

How will your unique gifts, skills, and abilities in this life best contribute to the flourishing of both your own life and to the lives of others? The best vocational choices in life come when we thinking about “we” rather than just thinking about “me” in the context of our work.

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What are your thoughts on vocational discernment? Take a moment to share your perspectives below.

Reflective Leadership

Photo Credit: Reflection, By Susanne Nilsson, Flickr

It’s January 1st as I write this reflection.

I took about three hours yesterday to reflect again on what I want to prioritize in the year to come. I don’t think there is anything inherently important about the transition from December 31 to January 1, but this moment in our calendars provides space to pause and hit reset on the things that matter in our lives.

I note elsewhere that I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions (see “Rethinking Resolutions). I am, however, a fan of using this season as a time to reflect and prioritize (or perhaps re-prioritize is a better term…returning to what has already been prioritized in our lives previously).

As I look back on the past two years, one of the items that has slipped more than I would like is the prioritization of reflection. There are practical reasons for this, so I’m not overly focused on “beating myself” up for the past. This is more about the future than the past.

The past two years have been full of wonderful opportunities—increased administrative leadership needs at my institution and the privilege of working on a book project that is scheduled for release in the summer of 2019. While I’m grateful for these opportunities, they did take away from a pattern of intentional reflection in my life and leadership. One evidence of this is the break from actively posting on this platform.

As I look to the year ahead, there are many new opportunities to which I’m looking forward. One of these is reprioritizing reflective leadership.

Perhaps a new emphasis on reflective leadership will be of help for you as well.

Here’s a sample from my upcoming book written with Mark Strauss. It captures some of the heart behind what I’ve raised above regarding the need for reflection in life and leadership:

Schedule Time to Rest and Reflect

While effective leadership includes honest self-evaluation, nurturing a rhythm of self-awareness and evaluation is difficult without a simple feature: time to reflect.

Do you intentionally create time in your schedule to think and reflect? In our day of continual connection to the world around us through technology, it is increasingly difficult for leaders to find time and space for deep reflection. Consider the ready access people have to you through smartphones, text messaging, a regular flow of emails, and meetings that are scheduled for us on shared calendars. While technology creates efficiencies in our work, this same technology also fills our lives in such a way that intentional reflection can be difficult.

On top of technology in the work environment, consider how technology in our personal lives also can work against time alone for reflection. For example, while there are many ways social media has the capacity to enrich our lives, social media also adds to already full schedules in ways that work against a reflective approach to life.

These realities mean that leaders need to be intentional in finding time and space in their lives to think and reflect. On this point, John Baldoni notes that organizations need leaders who first know themselves—leaders who “have an inner compass that points them in the right direction.” According to Baldoni, clarifying these dimensions of the inner life “begins with sound thinking—with taking time to think before we do.”

For Christians, time for reflection does not need to be an isolated activity. Through the practices of Sabbath and prayer, we are reminded that we are not alone in our work as leaders. Taking time for rest and prayer is a declaration of our trust in and dependency on God. Timothy Keller and Kathrine Leary Alsdorf remind us that the practice of Sabbath is an act of trust, a reminder that God is at work even in the midst of our rest, and that ultimately, God is there—we are not alone in our work.  As we recognize that we are not alone in our work, we also may receive the invitation to seek out wisdom from God: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5). In our times of rest and reflection, we are able to not only lean into our own thoughts and convictions but we are also able to lean into God’s wisdom.

So, are you making time to think and reflect in your life? Are you taking time for Sabbath rest and prayer? For those who have full calendars and high demands in their roles, this often means there is a need for scheduling time on their calendars for this important work. Remember, being busy does not always translate into being productive. As Keller and Leary-Alsdorf remind us, “a deeply rested people are far more productive.” Sometimes pulling back from the intense pace of work is just the answer we need to the most demanding questions and challenges we face. Take time to rest, think, reflect, pray, and nurture a regular pattern of self-evaluation. Consider when this specifically will take place. When will it take place in the week ahead? When will it take place next month?

May you engage the year ahead with deep reflection on the things that matter most to you!

Take a moment to share your reflections and priorities below.

How Do You Work in the 24/7 Culture?

Time_JD

Photo Credit: Time, by JD, Flickr

The cover of a Harvard Business Review edition recently grabbed my attention — “Managing the 24/7 Workplace … ‘Always available’ cultures breed problems.”

Facing the “Always Available” Workplace

I’m not sure what your work environment looks like, but the reality of the 24/7 workplace is impacting an increasing number of sectors and an increasing number of employees. Reid and Ramarajan put it this way:

To satisfy those demands [of the high-intensity workplace], employees arrive early, stay late, pull all-nighters, work weekends, and remain tied to their electronic devices 24/7.

For a few, this is not necessarily problematic, even though it may not be healthy. These individuals may enjoy the fast-paced work environment that goes along with such a 24/7-type work culture. For others, the “always available” mode of work life grinds against the core of the work-life balance they desire.

While such work environments may be most closely associated with the always-on contexts of Silicon Valley and Wall Street, the nature of contemporary work tools expands this reality to most organizations. Regardless of the field within which you work, paying attention to how you manage always-available communication like email and smartphones is an issue that nearly every adult must manage in our age.

3 Hours of Your Day

One source indicates that in 2015 the average person in the US spent around 174 minutes on their mobile device per day. This is up from around 22 minutes in 2009.

While some of this dramatic increase is due to browsing social media outlets and watching great things like the latest #chewbaccamom video (time well-spent of course!), much of this usage is also symptomatic of our “always-available” work expectations.

While I’m definitely on the end of frequently checking email and working to respond to work needs in a timely manner, I’m seeking to be more intentional these days about being intentional with times to step away from work and always-available communication in a balanced manner.

Intentionality

Here are a two targeted scheduling practices I aspire to increasingly move toward in managing a productive and balanced work life:

  • Schedule 2-3 times a day for engaging and responding to email:

    Rather than approaching email in an “always-available” manner, I want to focus on meaningful and timely communication 2 or 3 times a day. For me, this will take effort. I have a pattern of almost habitual email checking throughout the day on my smartphone. While there are some up sides to this (timely responses being one), this pattern takes away from other important and focused work that needs to be accomplished.

  • Schedule regular time for focused work:

    While administrative tasks such as meetings and email communication are regular and important parts of most organizational settings, typically these administrative tasks don’t move the most important work projects forward. Finding blocks of time to meaningfully engage these items helps to insure that the most important work does not just get discussed, but also accomplished. This relates to a previous discussion I shared about prioritizing the “Big Rocks” in our lives. See this post on priorities here.

So how are you managing your work life in light of these 24/7 workplace tendencies? What are your strategies to both remain relevant for your organization and focused on reclaiming work-life balance?

Is Higher Education Worth It?

This post was just shared yesterday on my blog at Patheos. I’ll provide it here as my normal Monday post as well since it seems to be gaining significant attention.  …

Graduation season is upon us. I celebrated with a friend at his graduation last week. In the coming week my university begins its marathon of multiple commencement services. And, by the end of the month I will be completing a third graduate degree.

As I think about the importance of these events and the value of education in general, I’m reminded of several realities.

Education Is a Good Investment

First, education is a good investment of time and money. This is not the case for all people, but for most, education represents an investment that appreciates rather than decreases in value over time. In other words, it is more like investing in a house (that tends to appreciate in value) rather than investing in a car (that tends to depreciate in value).

Education Improves Earnings and Marketablity

Second, education tends to improve capacity for future earning and lower rates of unemployment. Again, this is not the case for all people, but generally speaking, earnings increase and unemployment rates decrease as higher levels of education are attained.

Here is a helpful table from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that illustrates this point.

ep_chart_001

Table Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm)

Education Provides More Effective Approaches to Work

Third, education enables us to do better what we already must do. In most cases, employment is a necessary part of life. It is the way people are able to make a living and provide for themselves and their family. This logic might not work for everyone, but for me it does. If I’m going to be engaged in a job, I want to do it well. Education  helps me to do the work I already need to do in a more effective manner.

Education Provides A Pathway for Lifelong Learning

Fourth, education provides a natural pathway for lifelong learning. I view learning as intrinsically valuable. I also believe we are hardwired and created by God as learners. While learning can happen independently, engaging in a structured learning process allows us to benefit from those who have gone before us in a particular field of knowledge.

In my particular field of leadership studies, I’m convinced that leadership involves a deep commitment to learning (see my previous thoughts on this here). But learning is not just the work of leaders. There is both intrinsic and utilitarian value in learning for any field. Formal education is not the only path by which lifelong learning can take place. However, it is a key pathway that has helped many people.


While there are certainly examples that would not support the above, these four benefits of higher education are true for most. As you celebrate with the graduates in your life this season, be reminded that their investments and labors have not been in vain.

The World’s Toughest Job

On Mother’s Day, I’m reminded that the work that matters most in life is often unpaid.

Mother_the lost gallery.jpg

Photo Credit: MOTHER, by the lost gallery, Flickr

At its core, work is what we do to contribute or add value to others. Hopefully this happens in the context of paid work for you, but any parent understands that mothers and fathers often engage in such unpaid work on a daily basis.

I love this video by American Greetings that captures to the beauty and importance of this work. Enjoy!

Why Ordinary is Extraordinary

The greatness of art..._Nick-Kenrick

Photo Credit: The greatness of art…, by Nick Kenrick, Flickr

A couple weeks ago a friend and former colleague of mine shared a message entitled, “In Praise of Ordinary Work.” For those with 30 minutes to spare, listening to the message would be well-worth your time as you think about your context of ordinary work.

Along the lines of what Chris Armstrong shares in this message, I’ve been pondering afresh the extraordinary value of the ordinary parts of life. In our celebrity-oriented culture, the ordinary is often overshadowed by what we view as extraordinary.

Enjoying the Extraordinary

Don’t misunderstand me. I love to see greatness shine through in others. For instance, if you’re a basketball fan, it’s been a fun year watching Stephen Curry break 3-point records. It is a delight to watch “extraordinary” talent in the likes of someone like Curry.

My point is not to belittle extraordinary work on the public stage, but rather to lift up the extraordinary work that happens in ordinary and private ways on a daily basis.

Enjoying the Ordinary as Extraordinary

For most of us, our life and work happens on smaller stages. But that does not make our lives any less extraordinary when they are lived out steadily and faithfully. As individuals, families, and a society, we flourish together we collectively live our “ordinary” lives in an extraordinary manner.

When I look around, those I value most in my life are those that are steadily and faithfully attending to their lives and work on a daily basis.

Great things come when children faithfully apply themselves to the work before them in study and practice. Great things come when spouses and friends provide loving support for those closest to them. Great things happen with coworkers support their team in the accomplishment of collective work goals. Great things happen when we live out the ordinary in an extraordinary way.

In the Bible, we read the following call:

“…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
– 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

That is quite an affirmation of the ordinary.

Whether the stage of your life is small or large in its scope, we are all called to attend to the ordinary work that is in front of us. We are called to live our “ordinary” lives in light of what they actually are—extraordinary.

What is the ordinary work you are called to do in an extraordinary way today? What is the ordinary work being done by others around you in an extraordinary way today? Take some time to notice and appreciate the extraordinary that is all around you.

Purpose in Leadership on Patheos

Faith-Work

I’m excited to point you toward another channel through which I’ll be sharing thoughts. The Purpose in Leadership blog was invited to join the Patheos Faith and Work Channel, and this will allow me to share the type of reflections offered on this blog with a wider audience. I’ll continue to post regularly through both Purpose in Leadership blogs.

—  Purposeinleadership.com Blog
—  Patheos Purpose in Leadership Blog

As a faith-based blog channel focused on the integration of faith and work, I will be regularly sharing posts on leadership, work, and vocation.

Here is a highlight of the last five posts shared through the Purpose in Leadership blog on Patheos. Enjoy!