Vocational Freedom (Release the Zero-Sum Game)

For twelve years, I worked as a litigator at the largest firm in the state of Arkansas. Litigation so often felt like a zero-sum game, a winner-take-all proposition. My win was my opponent’s loss, and the winners were rewarded. The good litigators never lost, they said, and the awful litigators never last. This is the way the law works. She’s not a jealous mistress; she’s a black widow.

The zero-sum game is an unspoken facet of the lawyer’s ethos. If the cases came to my door, they didn’t come to yours; if they came to yours, they didn’t come to mine. And in that environment, it was easy to loathe (cordially, civilly, privately) your colleague’s success. Their accolades, their clients, their cases were just that–theirs.

Speaking to the baby-lawyer version of myself, I might say these things: It’s not as winner-take-all as you might think, Seth; celebrate your colleagues’ success; there’s plenty to go around.

I’m in a different vocational space, now. Now, I write for a living. I pitch projects against other people pitching projects. Sometimes, I pitch significant works against friends. And yes, in the pitch-against-pitch showdown, one will win and the other will lose. Is this any different than the law? Isn’t my new vocation mired in the same zero-sum games?

In the last six months, I’ve lost a couple of pitches, both times to friends. Both of the winners du jour are fine writers and even better humans, and even in the disappointment of losing a fantastic job, I’ve found myself happy for them. They have their own businesses to run, their own mouths to feed, their own college savings accounts to fund. And because I want the best for them, because I want to incarnate the notion of love-thy-neighbor (and and thy neighbor’s kids), it’s hard to see this as a zero-sum game.

My friend, my neighbor has won, and shouldn’t I celebrate his success?

And celebration of the neighbor aside, each pitch I lost taught me a little more about the next pitch. As I wrote in my series on failure, the loss taught me something about myself, my process, or my skill set. The lessons from loss always make us stronger, always refine us.

The zero-sum-game ethos is an absolute killer. It will haunt you, will cut all the right veins, will drain you and fill you back up with jealously, anger, bitterness, and resentment. Love of your neighbor, celebration of your neighbor–these are the antidotes to the poison.

Ask yourself where you might be playing zero-sum games in your own life. Ask where the all-or-nothing, winner-take-all mindset has taken root, where it’s given birth to jealousy or resentment against your neighbor. Ask where it’s made you covet your neighbor’s clients, career, or opportunities. Practice rooting these games out by loving your neighbor as you would want to be loved, by celebrating them as you would want to be celebrated. This is a key to vocational freedom.

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A Monday Poem (Yes, You Need Poetry)

The world is off kilter (if’n you ain’t noticed). There’s no need for me to provide the laundry list of proofs. You feel it, don’t you? These seasons beg me to remember the gentleness of faith, and today, I’m offering this poem as just such a reminder.

And as a brief reminder, let’s discuss how to read a poem. Consider the title, what it might say, or foreshadow. Then, read the poem slowly, line by line. Using your imagination, see the text come to life. Then, move to the next line and do it again. At the end of the poem, ask yourself: How do I feel? or What was the takeaway?

***

To my Sons #2

Some days you will race toddler tipsy,
water balloon between your knees,
against children more adept at
the awkward waddle of boyish games.
Carry best as you may–careful, careful—
these sorts of events occasion failure,
joy falling like eggs from the sky,
spilling into a pool of whoops and tears.
There, let your father’s faith be gentle,
like that of a mother lifting last born
from the embarrassment of empty can’ts
and into the crook of forever
where life’s perfume lingers.

***

Tomorrow, I’ll turn my thoughts back to vocation. These posts, as it turns out, have been among some of my most popular. Why? Who can say, but there seems to be a universal itch when it comes to the careers we choose. I hope to see tomorrow.

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Look for Rest Somewhere Else, Working Man.

Who knew yesterday’s piece, “Do What You Love, And You’ll Work Every Day Of Your Life,” would resonate with so many of you? I certainly didn’t. I’m thankful for the number of messages and emails I’ve received, and if there’s one common theme to those messages, it’s this:

I once thought another job would give me the joy and validation I needed; I thought it wouldn’t feel like work. Guess what? I was wrong.

Thanks for you honesty, all.

Today, allow me to restate yesterday’s working premise another way: There isn’t a single vocation that can give the human soul what it needs–equilibrium, peace, and rest. 

Sure, there are vocational choices that might make it easier to find soul-rest. (For instance, I’d argue soul-rest is difficult to find in the vocation of cocaine trafficking. Cocaine traffickers, feel free to email your disagreement.) But if vocation or occupation was meant to provide perfect rest and utter joy for the soul, soul-satisfaction would be in short supply. Could the roughneck, the coal miner, the migrant worker find rest and soul-satisfaction in their vocation alone? What about the lawyer grinding out the hours, the police officer under fire, the middle manager at Super-Mega-Mall-Mart? Could any of them find peace and rest solely in their respective careers? Could you.

Modern men have perpetuated a dangerous myth, the myth that the perfect, soul-fulfilling, non-work work is just around the corner. It’s a myth that tips too many of us off center, keeps us striving, striving, striving for the next shiny position. Believing the myth, how many of us have hummed our working-man-blues tunes?Here’s what the myth peddlers have failed to take into account: work is just that–work. It will never completely satisfy the soul.

Are you looking for that perfect job, that vocational track that feels less like work and more like rest, like soul-satisfaction? Good luck. Maybe you’ll be the vocational unicorn frolicking in a field of cotton candy under May showers of Skittles. I doubt it. More likely, you’ll be like the rest of us; you’ll do the next thing you know, the best way you can. Sometimes you’ll love it. Sometimes you’ll hate it. Most of the time, though, you’ll struggle under the stress of your chosen occupation.

That’s what it means to be a working man.

It’s okay to be a working man.

Look for your soul rest somewhere else, working man.

 

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Do What You Love, And You’ll Work Every Day Of Your Life

I heard that old line again, this time from a friend.

“It’s like they say: do something you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.”

Hogwash, I say.

It’s been almost a year since I left the practice of law. For eleven months, I’ve been doing the thing I love most–writing, editing, mapping books for some fine folks–and I can say this with great clarity: every day of the work I love is a war of attrition.

The work of creation is unrelenting. It looks something like this:

Make the phone calls.

Follow leads.

Write, write, write.

Edit.

Write more.

Break for lunch, maybe grab an apple and handful of carrots, something scarfable at the desk.

Make more pone calls.

Follow more leads.

Edit, edit, edit.

Write.

Edit more.

There is a Skype meeting, another spent hour.

Keeping up is a chore.

I love what I do, feel like the luckiest guy in the career counseling office, and still, I’m grinding gears and burning it at both ends.

I think of my friend Jason, one of the finest attorneys I know. (And as far as integrity goes, he’s a bit unicorn among lawyers.) Every day is a war of attrition for him, too. He makes phone calls, follows his own leads. He drafts and drafts and drafts. He strategizes for some of the state’s brightest minds and business leaders. He is accomplished. His job gives him the things he wants: security, relevance, and import. He does what he loves and is rewarded, but every day is a  grind. It’s work.

I consider Rob, a by-God saint who works to break cycles of human trafficking. Could there be more fulfilling work? And yet, his list of work obligations reads like a laundry list of horrors. His work is his passion. In a sense, he loves what he does. There’s no denying it though–Rob works.

Vlog: Rob Morris from Love146 on Vimeo.

Last night, as I watched Jason Isbell tear the roof from Cain’s Ballroom, I considered his touring schedule. He puts in the long hours on the bus, crashes in hotel bed after hotel bed. There are soundcheck in towns where everyone knows his name but nobody knows his momma. There’s no doubt he’s doing what he loves, but isn’t he working harder than anyone I know? Isn’t he a glorified long-haul trucker with a guitar.

Last night, I spent a few hours with Jason Isbell at @cainsballroom. Ole Bob Wills woulda been proud. #livemusic

A post shared by Seth Haines (@sethhaines) on

That job you wish you had, the grass-is-greener career, it’s not your ticket to a workless life. So before you make that jump, know this: there’s still heavy baggage, the grind, the frustrations of working that thing you love. Work is still work. And that brings us to the career truth of truths (take notes so you don’t forget): find something you love, yes, but if you do, know you’ll work every day for the rest of your life.

 

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You are Fraud; You are Family

There is a universal secret, a uniform truth so many of us tuck between the religious things we read from notecards. (Secrets, secrets they’re no fun; they seem to weigh a metric ton.) What’s the secret?

So many of us feel like frauds.

On an average Sunday evening, I gather with a liturgical community in a sacred space rented from an evangelical, non-denominational, non-liturgical church. The bell rings, the cross processes down the aisle, and I cannot help but notice the elongated shadows of our sister church, haunting. I imagine the morning crowd, now at their evening home groups, or maybe at home with their families, or doing whatever it is they do on a Sunday evening. I fix their faces in my imagination, even as I bow to the passing brass cross. I imagine all those morning church folk, and as I look at the shadows between my sneakers, I see the scattered crumbs of their own fraud-feelings.

The morning folk–did they come hoping to put these secrets to death? Did they come hoping that fresh faith would somehow kill the nagging doubt or hypocrisy or abivilance? Perhaps not all, but certainly some. And the evening folk, are we any different?

Universal truths are universal for reason.

If you listen to the voices beyond the voices in any worship service, the internal echo of things we hear but don’t say, you’ll find the revenant. It’s Thomas, Peter, maybe even Judas. You know they are in you. You know you need an exorcism from the voices.

Lord, I’m not feeling any of this; help my unbelief.

On an average Sunday evening, though, there is a moment of mass exorcism. There is bread and wine. There is us—all in our counterfeit sainthood—confessing our saggy fraudulence together.

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

The bread is lifted; light streams through the baptismal window illuminating an eternal circle of grain. Eclipsing the sun, a corona of truth hems the host, driving every shadow of doubt back to hellfire. Broken, bread crumbs flit down to the chalice of wine. I enter the line, expecting something. (Who knows what?) I take and eat. I drink.

This is the stuff.

Even in my fitful faith, I sense the alchemy. Those crumbs, the smallest ones now soaked in blood, have the power to change me into something more than shadows. They have the power to change my neighbor, too. They have the power to meld the evening church folk and the morning church folk. This is the meal that turns frauds to family.

 

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