Tag Archive for: Vocation

7 Leadership Principles Guaranteed to Ruin Your Career but Save Your Soul

This week, I shared the story of a friend–a decent, hard-working, upstanding friend of faith–who’s asking the hard questions of vocation.

Why is integrating vocation and faith so difficult? 

How do you ‘maximize profit’ while staying true to the message of scripture? 

How can I give everything to The Company and feel good about the scraps of time I throw to my children, my wife? 

What about time for prayer, for spiritual connection and formation?

The Market, though, refuses to answer these questions (even the “Christian Market,” whatever that is (feel free to read between the lines)). Instead, it pulls a sleight of hand, shirks those questions in favor of others.

How can you be a better leader? 

How can you take your team to the next level?

How can you succeed, succeed, succeed and by that success, prove yourself as a worth [leader, worker, Christian, whatever].

“The sign of success,” they tell my friend, and you, and me, “is leading others with excellence.” They syncretize the message of The Market and The Message of faith until we feel guilty about our inability to leverage everything we have for the economic well-being of… what? The Kingdom?

Leadership principles are all the rage in the Christian faith and have been for several years. But is every follower in Jesus’ way called to be a leader? Is the sign of a successful follower success in the Market?

Let me be clear: your success as a follower of Christ has nothing to do with your ability to lead in the workplace. Your success as a follower of Jesus’s way has nothing to do with market performance, in fact. Instead, the leadership of a Christian is marked by being a good follower. And so, today, let’s look at the 7 Christian Leadership Principles Guaranteed to Ruin Your Career (But Save Your Soul).

1. Don’t Center Yourself. I’m sure Jesus had a good chuckle about the leaders of his day, the ones who imagined themselves as so critical to the plan of God. He shot the hard-chargers straight. “The last will be first and the first will be last,” he said to the people who imagined themselves central characters in society’s pageant.

2. Become A Child. Jesus didn’t take much stock of adults doing important adult things. Instead, he took stock of the children, of those with simple faith who wanted nothing more than to be near him for the sake of being near him. Maximize profit? Maximize leadership potential? Children don’t care about those things. Children want nothing more than a good story, perhaps a laugh or two.

3. Serve The Least. Serving the rich, those with means, the participants in The Market is all fine and good, but success in that service meant very little to Jesus. “When have you visited the prisoner?” he asked. “When have you given the thirsty a cold cup of water or done the unseen thing for the down and out?”

4. Sell Everything. Didn’t Jesus say this to the rich young man? Go ahead. Explain it away; I know I’ll try to.

5. Save Somewhere Else. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” he said, “not in your 401k.”

6. Kill Your Self-Interests For The Sake of Others. Take the fall, the consequences, the death for another. Sure, you’ll lose the whole world, but isn’t it worth it to gain your soul?

7. Believe the Irrational. Jesus told Thomas, “blessed are those who have not seen me and still believe.” And what does it mean to believe but to put his words into action, to live them out in our families, our vocations, our social lives?

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I thought I’d written my last piece on vocation a week ago. Alas, sometimes fortune, fate, or the Spirit comes calling. Feel free to invite others along as we continue this exploration.  I know I’m not alone in my questions on this topic, and I’d love to hear how you and your people are processing your own questions.

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The Only Leadership Principle You Need

Thought leader.

Business leader.

Leadership principles.

Leader, leader, leader.

Leaders—we’re eaten up with them, maybe even obsessed.

This morning I sat in the local coffee shop and spoke with a fella I know to be good-and-decent. He’s smart, competent, a hard worker. He’s a man of faith, too, and as we talked about life, church, and business, he shared his workday struggle.

Why was integrating vocation and faith so difficult?

How could you chase a buck and stay true to the message of scripture (a message to which he gave intellectual assent)?

How could you sell twelve hours to The Company and feel good about the scraps of time you reserved for the girls, the wife?

What about time for prayer, for spiritual connection when you’re always chasing the rent, the mortgage, the next client payment, the next development opportunity, your own tail, whatever?

These were honest questions, questions that The Company, The Men’s Group, The Christian Business Gurus shirked. “These are the wrong questions,” they said (and say ad nauseum). “Instead, ask yourself this: What are you doing to be a more effective workplace leader?”

They were answering questions that were unasked (as tends to be their way).

Be more of a leader. Lead by example. Set the goals. Set the course. Stay the course. Ask others to follow you on the course. Achieve, achieve, achieve.

“Aside from it being unhelpful in answering any of my questions,” my friend said. “What does any of it mean? I’ve pondered my friend’s quandary, and here’s what I think. Leadership principles are easier to teach than principles of integrating faith, career, and family. But becoming a better leader in the workplace cannot help him (or you or me or any of us) solve our disintegrated compartmentalization. Perhaps increasing your leadership capacity can help you feel important, maybe even indispensable. It’s a good ego drug, one that helps numb the conscious when burning the midnight oil. Being a leader can help you earn an extra buck, can pad the retirement account or help you buy the extra toy for your daughter, your wife, yourself. Leadership (as defined by the current business milieu (even the current Christian business milieu)) is good for some things, but it cannot teach you the way of Christ, unless, of course, leadership is redefined as this:

Asking others to follow you on a mad mission of certain death for the sake of others.

This, I think, is the Key Leadership Principle, the model embodied by Christ himself. This, I think, is the only leadership principle the person of faith needs.

Don’t get me wrong, we need good leaders. Some are born leaders; others are made. But as painful as this may be to read, know this: not everyone can be a leader. (Those peddling these models are selling snake oil; trust me.) Here’s where the life is: everyone can die for the sake of another.

This week, I’d like to kill the leadership model of vocation. It’s overdone, outmoded. In its place, I’d like to build a model that keeps us connected to the larger purpose. What is that purpose?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

If this was our filter, would it help us better integrate our faith into all aspects of our lives, vocation and family included?

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I thought I’d written my last piece on vocation a week ago. Alas, sometimes fortune, fate, or the Spirit comes calling. Feel free to invite others along as we continue this exploration.  I know I’m not alone in my questions on this topic, and I’d love to hear how you and your people are processing your own questions.

***TINY MEMBERSHIP DRIVE***

The content here takes hours (and no small amount of spare change) to produce. If you enjoy reading my content, whether here, in the bi-monthly Tiny Letter, or in any of my free email campaigns, would you consider SUPPORTING THE WORK? (It’ll only set you back a cup of coffee a month.) And, if you enjoy this website and haven’t yet signed up for the bi-monthly Tiny Letter newsletter, sign up to receive it straight to your inbox.

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Killing John’s Ego (A Vocational Question)

Today, I’m continuing my series on vocation. For the previous posts, follow this link.

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This week, I’ve been wrestling with vocational irrelevance, with the freedom it could bring if it didn’t hurt my ego so much. As I’ve spilled no small amount of ink on the topic, I’ve been considering whether there might be some secret in the scriptures, some word on vocational irrelevance and the death of ego.  A person of the scriptures as I am (or would like to be), it seems appropriate to mine whatever insight I might from those pages. There’s gold in them-there hills, I’ve been told.

In the quieter spaces of the week, I took inventory of the people of the text, ordinary folks who laid aside their ego for a “cause greater than oneself” or to “surrender to a person other than oneself….” (A phrase we learned from Victor Frankl in yesterday’s piece.) I considered the vocation of mother Mary, how she laid aside her public reputation and endured a certain scandal in order to become a homemaker for the son of God. I considered Matthew the tax collector, who left behind the security and relevance of his businessman status to follow Jesus, who recorded Jesus’s warnings on practicing good works for the purpose of being seen, or relevant. I considered these examples and others, and then I considered the very cousin of Jesus, John the Baptizer.

Could you call John’s desert preaching a vocation? I’m not sure, and perhaps desert preaching isn’t a vocation or career as we’d recognize it today (ahem), but it was the thing he did, the thing for which he was known. And in his years of desert preaching, he was quite popular, a known quotient, a relevant fella. In that desert, he told the crowds–rich and poor alike–he pointing to the one who was to come. He was preparing the platform for another. But were those just super-holy-sounding platitudes? Were they nothing more than marketable words?

John 3 records the execution of the baptizer’s ego. There, in the desert where John practiced his vocation, his followers came to him, told him Jesus had set up shop upstream and was also baptizing the people. “Look,” they said, “everyone is going to that other prophet, to the competition.” In his slippery slide from Man-Of-The-Hour to complete irrelevance, John responded:

“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I have said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ … Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

~John 3:27-30 (ESV)

With that, the ministry of John ended, and it ended in complete joy. In a matter of months, John lost his head and made his way to the eternal shore.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to draw any conclusions from John the Baptist’s story. After all, how many of us are called to wear animal skin, eat honey-covered insects, and proclaim a prophetic word in the desert? (Though I concede there may be a few, they are likely not reading this piece.) But consider those things that might ring familiar. Consider his disciples, how they wanted their teacher to be The Big Deal In The Desert. Consider John’s response, how he told them that relevance was not the ends of his ministry; his vocational aspiration was to serve the person greater than himself, and in the end, he put his neck on the line to prove how serious he was.

So, as I end this series on vocation and our need for relevance, validation, and visibility (at least for now), know this: it’s okay to languish in irrelevance so long as you’re doing your best to serve the greater cause or surrender to the person greater than yourself. It’s okay to become less, to put the ego to death, so long as you’re elevating the divine. It’s okay to strive less, be seen less, be less known. Less relevant doesn’t make you less successful; in fact, from the eternal perspective, it might be the badge of your salvation.

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As I work through this short series on vocation, please feel free to invite others along.  I know I’m not alone in my questions on this topic, and I’d love to hear how you and your people are processing your own vocational questions.

***TINY MEMBERSHIP DRIVE***

The content here takes hours (and no small amount of spare change) to produce. If you enjoy reading my content, whether here, in the bi-monthly Tiny Letter, or in any of my free email campaigns, would you consider SUPPORTING THE WORK? (It’ll only set you back a cup of coffee a month.) And, if you enjoy this website and haven’t yet signed up for the bi-monthly Tiny Letter newsletter, sign up to receive it straight to your inbox.

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Lying Under the Invisibility Cloak (A Vocational Question)

Relevance, validation, affirmation—if we’re honest, don’t most of us want these? If we’re honest, don’t most of us hope to find these in our careers, our vocations, our workplaces? The more pious might chime in here, might say, “I only seek relevance and validation in the eyes of The One,” and perhaps that’s true (for them). But my life-experience has taught me something about the things we say: so often we use our words like fresh paint (as if there’s no rust underneath) or reverse psychology (as if we can say ourselves into believing) or invisibility cloaks (as if we can hide our human frailty under fantasy and magic).

The desire to be seen, known, and recognized as successful is as human as breathing. It grows from ego, sure, but weren’t we all created with an ego (which most certainly ensures our survival)? But the play of modern career–doesn’t it exacerbate the ego’s already voracious appetite?

Allow me to answer that last question for you. Yes.

This, I think, is why it’s high time we said the true thing instead of the right (i.e., the marketable) thing. And here’s the true thing, at least for me: I want you to see me as a relevant, successful, and important as I go about my craft, my career. (I said as much on Tuesday.)

For three days, now, I’ve been noodling on vocation, relevance, irrelevance, and success. As much as I’d love for you to see this noodling as a poignant, maybe even novel work on the topic, let me be clear: this is not new stuff. (Is there anything new under the sun?) There are others who’ve written competent volumes on the ways in which our vocational aspirations so often fall prey to the ego. Consider vocational guru Victor Frankl’s statement about vocational success from his book Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Don’t aim at success [or relevance, or validation, or affirmation]. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. … [S]uccess, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”

(The bracketed language is my own, but seems a fitting addition.)

See?

Success, relevance, validation—none of these things are ends. They are so often outside our control, even if we’d like to pretend that hard work and talent will bring us the goods. These byproducts–they come if they come (or on occasion, if you have the money to buy them), but if they do not, c’est la vie. Sometimes vocational success isn’t in the cards.

So, I can’t make you confront your lesser angel of ego, but I can lead you to purer water. And here’s how I’ll lead: I’ll be honest with the ways my ego drives my work, and I’ll say the true thing even if it’s not the thing I should say. In that confession, I’ll try my best to reach toward what Frankl calls serving a cause greater than myself or surrendering to a person other than myself. Maybe this will set me (even you?) on the proper vocational course. What is that course?

Let’s explore that tomorrow. See you then?

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As I work through this short series on vocation, please feel free to invite others along.  I know I’m not alone in my questions on this topic, and I’d love to hear how you and your people are processing your own vocational questions.

 

***TINY MEMBERSHIP DRIVE***

The content here takes hours (and no small amount of spare change) to produce. If you enjoy reading my content, whether here, in the bi-monthly Tiny Letter, or in any of my free email campaigns, would you consider SUPPORTING THE WORK? (It’ll only set you back a cup of coffee a month.) And, if you enjoy this website and haven’t yet signed up for the bi-monthly Tiny Letter newsletter, sign up to receive it straight to your inbox.

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Bullets to the Bodies (A Vocational Question)

Yesterday, I wrote of my vocational transition, the ways in which I’m trading down–local vocational relevance for an increasing irrelevance. As an attorney, I cultivated the appearance of importance. I was a partner in the largest firm in the state. I worked on the right cases (sometimes), learned the right angles (a few acute and obtuse ones, too). I owned nice suits and power ties.

Then, I quit.

Now, I’ve adopted a new vocational persona–the pensive writer (let’s call a thing a thing) whose local vocational relevance is waning. I peck words on a keyboard in the local coffee shop, and The Suits I’ve known for so many years waive and nod from the counter without stopping by my table. (Except Dale Brown–a gentleman and scholar if ever there were one.) I’m not the person to know around the community anymore. I’m just a guy. Plain and simple.

But is it that plain and simple? I want you to believe it’s all so romantic, so take-up-my-crossy. But I can’t run from the truth: I ain’t no saint.

In the downward slide of local vocational relevance, I’m learning how easy it is to transfer my need for relevance and competency to the new vocation. Now, relevance isn’t measured by suits, or the amount of money in my account, or the size of my nest egg. Now, it’s measured in page-views, or book sales, or new subscribers, or social media shares. (That was a most embarrassing sentence to write.) It’s measured in the CLANG!-CLANG!-CLANG!-look-at-my-opinions-and-say-MMMMMMMMMMM-HMM (with all those M-s).

Relevance is the dog you adopted from the animal shelter, the one who will not ever leave you be.

My confession today is simple: my need for vocational competency and relevance did not die the day I left the law office, the day I’d have you believe I left everything behind to follow the divine path. (Doesn’t that sound so spiritual?) Perhaps leaving my previous career was a bullet to the leg but not to the head. And though I apologize for the metaphorical crassness, did Paul not say we had to murder our lesser selves to be set free? (Romans 6:7)

Like so many, I’m still looking for freedom in my vocation, and by freedom, I mean a way to be myself, free of expectation, the hounding need for competency, the need for relevance that’s as persistent as a hangover. I’m looking for a way to become more by becoming less. I haven’t found it yet, but I’m starting with the right question, I think:

What is the aim of my vocation?

Keep asking the question with me. Keep digging, digging, digging. Keep noticing how much of your vocation is driven by the need for relevance, competency, and validation. Keep noticing the lesser bodies that need killing.

Come along?

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As I work through this short series on vocation, please feel free to invite others along.  I know I’m not alone in my questions on this topic, and I’d love to hear how you and your people are processing your own vocational questions.

***TINY MEMBERSHIP DRIVE***

The content here takes hours (and no small amount of spare change) to produce. If you enjoy reading my content, whether here, in the bi-monthly Tiny Letter, or in any of my free email campaigns, would you consider SUPPORTING THE WORK? (It’ll only set you back a cup of coffee a month.) And, if you enjoy this website and haven’t yet signed up for the bi-monthly Tiny Letter newsletter, sign up to receive it straight to your inbox.

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