A colleague at work once mentioned, in a surprisingly lighthearted way, that they were usually drunk or stoned or both during their college days. While I could not relate to this disturbing experience and lifestyle choice, after giving it some thought this precarious pattern did not really surprise me.
From my perspective, at least, this self-destructive behaviour made sense.
Looking back, reading books like Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work likely played a significant role in helping me avoid a similar sad routine. For despite being surrounded by kind and often wise people, I remember being regularly struck by the futility of human existence and the apparent lack of meaning in my own daily life.
Discussing deep existential despair at a moments notice can feel forced and almost trivial and trite when you are not experiencing the full weight of it all. But if core dignity and worth and personal value and significance is threatened for too long, in a very real and substantial way, it is just a matter of time before some type of escape becomes necessary.
Thankfully, many university and college students do not have time to think long and hard about what they are being taught to believe about their lives. For there is always more propaganda to absorb, wisdom to discern, and all sorts of pressing activities and distractions.
May He help and strengthen everyone in every good endeavor
A short summary of the second topic is that God and work go together at many different levels like you would not believe. Or, to put it another way, it is kind of like the relationship between the earth and the sky: a bit complicated to describe at times, but they have always been together.
Picturing a triangle split into three horizontal parts will assist in the presentation of the basic structure of this book. The first section, God’s plan for work, would be positioned at the peak. At just under 50 pages, this is the shortest of the main three sections. The second section entitled Our problems with work comes in at around 70 pages. The Gospel and Work, the final section, could be pictured at the bottom; this is the largest part and contains close to 90 pages.
The first part focuses on the design of work, the dignity of work, work as cultivation, and work as service. The emphasis here is on our collective culture mandate or commission. In the second main section, the authors discuss the sense that work can sometimes be fruitless and feel pointless. Creation is no longer what is was originally intended to be and life will be difficult; it is best to just plan on that. In addition, they reflect on how work can now become a very selfish activity and actually be associated with idolatry. It was very interesting for me to read their assessment regarding common forms of idolatry associated with traditional, modern, and post-modern cultures.
With the introduction of the Gospel in the final section, there is an emphasis on a new way of approaching work: a new story or narrative, a new conception, a new moral compass, and a new source of motivation and power to get the job done.
What type work do the authors have in mind?
Well, Timothy obviously works as a pastor and Katherine has business experience as a corporate executive in Silicon Valley. But they are speaking to people who fill a wide variety of roles. Located in New York City, they are intentionally addressing careers common in their immediate community. But they are also thinking, really, about all the work that needs to be done on the earth.
The title is taken from a quote by jazz artist John Coltrane found in his 1964 release entitled A Love Supreme. John had been reflecting on the artistic abilities he had been given, together with his recent and remarkable experience working an a new album, and then wrote this: “May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor.” Please keep in mind that John was using language here that used to refer to everyone – that is, men and women.
As some of you may know, I was doing manual labour – planting trees in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia – when I first began seriously considering some of the same ideas found in this book. It became quite apparent that in addition to providing for my own immediate needs and earning enough money to go to college, I was also actively participating in the ancient cultural mandate to care for creation.
Planting hundreds of trees, day after day, was hard work. And all work is difficult in some respects. But knowing your work has great dignity and deep meaning can make a big difference.
© Career & Life Direction 2016. All rights reserved.
Adjusting to life in a new country or a new city can be a big challenge. Parachuting so to speak into a new place as an anonymous outsider isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Finding an inviting place to live, physically moving, and then finding your way around are a few initial tasks that require substantial effort. For some, a new language must be quickly acquired. Basic survival conversation skills must be learned. This is huge. For others, a new culture or lifestyle takes some time getting used to. Finding and building healthy relationships in a new place takes even more time. People are similar and yet somehow different, and not always open to outsiders.
Picking up and moving from one place to another may sound exciting, but it is also usually stressful, time consuming, and very expensive. And moving often has a lingering psychological effect. Some days, everything will still feel strange even when somewhat established.
Being the center of attention isn’t advisable long-term but neither is becoming invisible overnight
Some places and situations are nonetheless clearly much more difficult than others. But realistically, there will be numerous struggles and obstacles to face throughout 2016 – wherever you happen to live. And so, it would be best for everyone to just plan on that.
Moving to a large urban center, particularly at this time in world history, continues to involve significant challenges. Sitting at our kitchen table, the conversation recently turned towards this timely topic; the consensus being that it was evidently much easier to feel significant or valuable in a smaller and more familiar setting. Whereas in a large city, or a new and culturally distant setting, there is a greater chance of getting lost in all of the activity and feeling insignificant as busy people all around go about their daily lives. There are dangers or extremes on every side. Being the center of attention isn’t advisable long-term but neither is becoming invisible overnight.
In a bustling metropolis there is often a loss of community and a lack of meaningful connection with other people, especially for newcomers. It would be odd not to be noticed or acknowledged in a small village or established community setting. But the situation is often just the opposite in a big city. People pass each other by on the street all the time. This common observation and contrast suggests that transitioning from a healthy, small community to a large and anonymous metropolitan center puts people at risk of being potentially exposed to a type of emotional propaganda. This can happen at the best of times.
The problem, while on the cheerful topic of endless problems, is that we are not living in the best of times. At the risk of sounding dire and grandiose, here is my take on the present situation in the somewhat civilized Western world: As a block or a global group, it is getting to the point where we could soon collectively lack a compelling intellectual framework to build and sustain a healthy society as well as individual lives. Colin Gunton’s old book The One, the Three and the Many comes to mind. Whether or not you agree with this assessment, feeling like your life is insignificant and suspecting that this internal sense is also accurate makes trying to live and relate in a positive way anywhere 10,000 times worse.
So there you have it. Modern mobility, ever-expanding cities, and a confused intelligentsia allegedly represents three parts of a global movement that can quickly drain a core sense of meaning, significance, purpose and personal dignity from our lives. That is, if we let it.
Cities have been around for a long time. This mid-morning discussion wasn’t focused so much on any particular city but rather on modern cities in general – that is, gatherings of large groups of assorted people packed together in close proximity. Whether it’s Frankfurt or Tokyo, Montreal or L.A., people have a mysterious habit of congregating in the same place and on the same relatively small plot of land. This practice may not change any time soon.
Of course instability and less-than-ideal philosophies are nothing new either. How people choose to respond when faced with all three mixed together is what remains to be seen.
© Career & Life Direction 2016. All rights reserved.
While I have never been to China, my impression is that China is one country where a great deal gets accomplished in a short period of time. Meanwhile, I can’t say the same thing about my home country – Canada.
By any measure, China has experienced amazing growth and transformation during the past 50 years. As a result, many other countries are lining up in an attempt to cash in on their success. While I wouldn’t want to live under a communist dictatorship, I would like to live in society where there are signs of tangible progress. This isn’t to say that growth is always entirely positive or that China will turn out to be a benign major power in this world. But I really like the fact that the Chinese government, and many citizens in that country, have found a way to get things done.
It’s tempting to launch into a rant about what has gone wrong here in Canada. For it sometimes seems like 78 studies are required and 49 regulations must to be considered before a light bulb can be changed over at the House of Commons – that is, if this practice isn’t said to be in conflict with the Charter and the Constitution as interpreted by the feelings of the lawyers over at the Supreme Court last Monday morning. It is easy to point out that there is presently too much articulate talk and not enough plain and ordinary action. But this approach would also fail to appreciate the progress that has been made, the safeguards that are likely necessary, and the complexity that is often involved when considering public ventures.
As the saying goes, if I want change I also need to be willing to be the change. And I have noticed, as of late, that positive change in my own life requires a large amount of effort and seems to take a very long period of time. If I am slow, how can I expect everything around me to take place at a record pace?
But in the end, maybe it doesn’t matter so much whether you or I are getting important things accomplished at a record pace or over a protracted period of time. What does matter, though, is that significant projects are gradually being checked off of our “to-do” lists and we are moving in the right direction. It has often been mentioned that life isn’t just about doing things at a frantic pace – as important as they may seem. And yet, it is very important to get in the habit of getting important things done.
Does this sound too obvious to even mention? Is this observation for the more task-oriented folks who may have inadvertently stopped by? Should this message ideally be directed towards a few Facebook addicts you know?
What I like about this topic is that it forces (or perhaps invites) each one of us to think about what we need to focus on at this time. And this will be different for each person. The idea is to get moving if it becomes apparent we are perpetually stuck or that a time of rest and refreshment has turned into a prolonged distraction from important duties. By way of example, I am going back to school this fall and moving to another city in order to do that. So most of my energy must be focused in that direction. Nobody is going to find a place for me to live or sign me up for the required classes or read the stack of books I need to read, etc.
How about you? I very much appreciate that you stopped by this website site. But if I can be quite direct, without hopefully causing any offence, here is a question to consider:
What should you really be doing right now?
If it isn’t clear what you need to focus on, spending time at a website like this could help you eventually establish goals and begin to move. In other words, if I don’t know what to do I need to make figuring out what to do a priority. Working at discerning your next step is a worthwhile and absolutely necessary activity. It requires effort and should be defined as valuable work. It might not look like you doing much when in reality you are doing exactly what you need to do.
My decision to go back to school and study public policy is actually the result of several years of sustained reflection. Did I mention that I am slow? So don’t get discouraged if your own attempt to clarify your life direction seems to be taking a very long time.
On the other hand, if it is quite clear where your energy needs to be directed and yet you have failed to take the necessary first or second or third step…then lingering online much longer could become a problem.
Driving by a government building some time ago, my wife mentioned in a lighthearted way, “That’s where they make the red tape.” It was a funny comment at the time and contains an element of truth. And yet, it is sobering to realize that we each have the capacity to act and can’t really blame the government or anyone else if we choose not to.
© Career & Life Direction 2015. All rights reserved.
Some things cannot be changed. Oh yes, that’s just the way it is. Some things will never change. Or at least we cannot change them. Take, for example, pretty much everything that occurred during the previous month.
Which is to say, that February 2015 has now come to an end. Twenty-eight days quickly came and went. And this period of time will never be back. What happened, whether it was good or bad or otherwise, is all over now. It’s finished, done, final. We all know that searching for a magical rewind button in order to change whatever took place, in this awkward or perhaps that terrible situation, is a waste of time and a ridiculous thing to do.
Often there are more opportunities to make a difference than we realize
So baring the invention of a time machine, the past is one obvious example of something in your life and mine that cannot be changed. But there are many others. Consider a very serious health situation. Hopefully we won’t have to anytime soon. But then again, we might. People deal with these kinds of issues everyday.
Here in Canada, thankfully quite often treatments are readily available for any number of health issues. A pill can be produced or a change of diet makes a difference. But for everyone who is alive, there will come a time when it is no longer possible to stay alive. Cancer eventually strikes or another terminal disease set in. And when that happens, no doctor or nurse will be able to do anything. For any number of reasons, our bodies wear out and break down. I don’t like to think about it and probably neither do you. But death is always just around the corner.
When it’s our turn to die, money won’t make a difference. Race and nationality will seem irrelevant. Status and success will fade from view. On that day, as health and vitality begins to face, our attention will be focused on one glaring reality: Life as we know it will soon come to an end.
And yes, you are very welcome for this pleasant reminder of your impending personal doom.
But the main purpose of this post is to point out that many things can be changed. This is easy to forget. The situation you have in mind may not change automatically or without an incredible amount of effort. But positive change is often possible. It is necessary to be regularly reminded of this and especially when facing challenging times.
Looking around, it may occasionally seem like very little can be changed. Realistically, there might not be much in the way of immediate hope on the horizon. Possibly someone reading this presently feels trapped and powerless. But despite all the things you can’t do, try to identify what you can do.
Here are a number of situations that quickly come to time:
1. I can’t force anyone to visit this website. But I can try to provide valuable content.
2. I can’t become good at everything. But I can become good at something.
3. I can’t fix what is wrong with this world. But I can fix a very small part of it.
4. I can’t control how others respond to me. But I can try to control how I respond to them.
5. I can’t reach my goals today. But I can take the next small step.
Personally, I find this exercise to be very helpful. Out of curiosity, what would you include on your list? It goes without saying that this idea certainly isn’t original with me. A certain prayer by Francis of Assisi may come to mind for many. But unfortunately, bad theology (among other things) can still kick in at this point and block this exercise from ever taking place.
While this might not describe your situation, some people believe that God directly controls everything and that there is very little room in His universe for human freedom and creativity. To be honest, I sometimes really wish that this was true. For the amount of suffering that takes place because of the large-scale abuse of human freedom can sometimes feel like too much to bare. As well, then nothing much would be expected of us other than to do what we had already been programmed to do. Then life would easy, dull but easy.
But real life doesn’t work that way.
There are real choices that need to be made and real consequences to deal with. Yes, God is ultimately in control. But our input is required. For now, the exact relationship between human freedom and God’s will largely remains a mystery. But in the meantime, don’t underestimate the power you have been given to creatively change your situation and make a positive difference in this world.
© Career & Life Direction 2015. All rights reserved.
Would it makes sense to compare your life and what you have to offer to a product that needs to be developed? Could reflection on a standard marketing strategy provide a new and necessary perspective?
Viewing any person primarily as a product to be developed and marketed would be a mistake. Nowadays, an excessively materialistic mindset leads some to view pretty much everything in terms of cash value. If a dollar value is lacking, whatever is being considered isn’t said to be worth very much. All too often personal worth is determined by net worth. And soon enough this bottom-line thinking leads to a distorted understanding of human life.
That being said, it may be valuable to think about who you are and what you have to offer in terms of the classic Five P’s of Marketing which includes (1) Product, (2) Price, (3) Place, (4) Promotion, and (5) Perseverance. And today, we will consider the first one.
My introduction to marketing took place as I set out to learn about marketing music. In this context, the obvious place to begin is with some good-quality music to offer people, whether in a live setting or via a studio recording. And this takes an incredible amount of time, effort and money; it obviously doesn’t just happen. Likewise, in terms of a career, we each need to honestly ask what we have to offer that is substantial to a potential employer or client in a very competitive world.
Do you have an appealing “product” to present to anyone right now? Or is this the time when you really need to focus on your personal/product development?
A creative product needs to be carefully produced
My story is similar although not quite the same. Aspiring to teach at the college level, I had my sights set on a Ph.D. While I got close, by way of a graduate degree, this basic educational requirement evaded my grasp. Several more years of study would have been required, and this would have cost thousands of dollars – money I didn’t have. But I applied for a number of college teaching jobs just the same, and of course wasn’t hired.
In other words, it doesn’t make sense to hone our resume writing skills before we have anything substantial to put in our resumes. Over the years I have read a lot of resumes that didn’t really say a whole lot. At the same time, I have read a large number of job descriptions which tend to be very specific and concrete.
Here’s the harsh reality:
A high school education doesn’t count for much. And many university programs don’t really matter. A few teachers might tell you how wonderful you are, but those teachers are never going to hire anybody. In fact, you have hired them. Most employers are looking for very specific training and skills together with years of experience.
Yes, some people are born into very privileged situations. And personal/product development may not be a pressing need for them. But for most people, it typically takes an incredible amount of hard work simply to move beyond step number one.
© Career & Life Direction 2015. All rights reserved.
Courage & Calling: Embracing your God-given potential could have been designed with this website in mind. But of course it wasn’t. The author, Gordon T. Smith, wrote the first edition back in 1999 during a sabbatical in the midst of a personal transition. The edition I picked up had been revised in 2011, about the time this online resource began to take shape.
Search and you will find that all sorts of people have been reflecting and talking and writing about these issues for a long period of time. And this, I suspect, will never change. Or at least not any time soon. And each person brings something unique to the discussion.
Gordon grew up in Ecuador and worked in the Philippines before arriving in Canada, and most recently Calgary, where he now serves as the president of Ambrose University. He is ordained with the Christian & Missionary Alliance in Canada, has a Ph.D. from Ateneo de Manila University, and has been working as an academic and administrator in theological colleges for most of his life.
But fear not, this isn’t a dry or dull academic document. It is written, rather, in a straightforward and accessible style and is quite easy to read. As an aside, I found that focusing on this book was more refreshing and enjoyable – and likely beneficial – than staring at a computer screen for the same period of time.
What is this book essentially about? And who will benefit from taking the time to read it?
As the title suggests, the focus is on the courage that each of us will require in order to live out our unique vocation or calling. Courage & Calling is roughly divided in half. The first half is dedicated to a theological vision (for lack of a better phrase) for work and practical insight about the career selection process. The next half begins with a closer look at four specific types of work: business, the arts, education, and religious leadership. What follows is a discussions surrounding five “points of leverage” or rather ways in which we can each increase our effectiveness. This includes: developing courage, continuous learning, emotional resilience, working well with others, and establishing structure and order in our lives.
Of all the points of leverage discussed, Gordon feels that developing emotional resilience is likely the most important one. With this in mind, on page 221, you will read this: “Lack of emotional maturity and resilience will sabotage our lives and vocations.” Strong words perhaps, but nonetheless words that need to be taken to heart.
Unlike other books I have read, and briefly reviewed, this one has a strong emphasis on the organizational side of life. In other words, you will find practical advice here specifically in terms of how to be more effective within a particular organization. At the same time, Gordon emphasizes the importance of carefully selecting where you work. This may sound like a luxury to some. But it makes sense to find a place to work that is a fit with who you are as a person if at all possible. There is also practical advice here related to deciding when it might be a good idea to resign and move on.
One more point to ponder related to content.
Throughout his book, Gordon addresses a number of misunderstandings related to the career selection progress, particularly within the various Christian communities he has been a part of. For example, he feels that personal desire has been misunderstood and often regrettably downplayed. At the same time, he thinks that there has been too much emphasis on meeting immediate needs and not enough instruction on how to determine which needs to meet. For a sense of personal vision and direction is required in order to live a more effective life.
Trying to figure out what do to next? Longing for more of a sense of person direction and focus in your life? Interested in discovering what a “theological vision” for your career might look like? Hoping to move beyond a merely secular take on life? Well then, reading this book would likely be well worth your time.
© Career & Life Direction 2015. All rights reserved.
Wally, a mysterious person I have never met, has the best sign advertising a parts store by far. Came around yet another corner on a winding road and there it was: Wally’s Private Parts. We must have passed hundreds of signs on that particular journey, but I will always remember Wally’s. Very entertaining. Over a year has gone by, and we are still laughing.
Thanks for the good memories!
His simple sign was original, creative, funny, memorable, and also very informative. In a moment, anyone driving by knew where to go and who to talk to if their forestry equipment suddenly broke down. Why deal with some generic parts store when you have an excuse to meet an interesting and creative guy named Wally? And with any luck he would answer that earnest knock on his door fully clothed.
Sure, this creative sign was a marketing manuever – a way of getting attention. Obviously, a communication strategy that worked well for a couple of people travelling on by. But this creative presentation also makes me realize that vocational callings can sound unnecessarily dull because of how they are routinely described. Would you agree?
If this is the case, it might partly explain why the decision-making process is such a challenge for some people. After all, why get excited about any occupation if they all sound stale and dry and boring and dull?
So if nothing grabs your attention, perhaps it’s time to rephrase or rethink a few viable options. Try to describe an occupation you might have even briefly considered in the past in a more interesting way. Consider the following examples.
Some time ago, while sitting in a local restaurant, I realized that the people who worked there provided much more than food. Yes, they served excellent meals and they provided a nice atmosphere, etc. But most of all, they provided fuel for life. It’s stating the obvious, but without food and energy everything grinds to a halt in a very short period of time. It’s like running out of gas halfway to your destination.
Notice the contrast: “I am a cook.” vs. “I provide fuel for life.” Both phrases may be true, but which definition or description do you prefer? Which one grabs you?
Another example. Not too long ago, I heard about guy who had a fence building business. Of course there are all sorts of reality TV shows based on the excitement, glamour, and status surrounding such business ventures. Or not. But the way I heard how he described his business made me quite interested. What did he do for a living? He helped people establish boundaries in their lives.
Again, notice the contrast: “I build fences.” vs. “I provide boundaries.” Which phrase makes you feel tired? And which one makes you interested and energized?
Or take what I am doing at this moment: writing a blog post for this website. Every day thousands of website managers and bloggers post articles and create content for their sites. Happens all the time. Over and over again. It’s as common as a curve on a winding road or another sign off to the left. And it doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? But what if this brief description doesn’t accurately describe what is going on?
It’s funny how labels and common phrases can sometimes obscure meaning and make us forget about larger goals. And when that happens, selecting a career becomes even more complicated and unnecessarily dull.
© Career & Life Direction 2015. All rights reserved.
The old adage “Look before you leap” wasn’t coined so cats could get from a comfortable chair to an even more comfortable couch. Anyone who has a cat as a pet knows that these curious – and often crazy – creatures are generally pretty good at finding their way around. Cats just intuitively seem to know what to do and don’t need a lot of instruction.
That being said, the cat in this picture once jumped off a balcony about 10 feet off the ground by accident in an impulsive attempt to catch a passing butterfly. But thankfully, she only tried that once. I guess even cats sometimes need to learn this basic lesson.
But for some of God’s other creatures (i.e. people) life experience is much more complex. Yes, we arrive on the earth with many important capabilities and yet also arrive lacking knowledge in many ways. In order to avoid any confusion, the point of this post is that it will often be necessary for each one of us to aggressively go out and get the knowledge and experience we need.
Please don’t underestimate the amount of time and intentional effort this will take. And please don’t wait too long to get started.
Back in high school, I remember boarding a bus in a bit of a haze with many other students and travelling to the University of Saskatchewan on a career exploration tour. This was a step in the right direction, in terms of gathering more information, but it wasn’t very helpful because the purpose of the trip wasn’t individually specific enough.
Oh yes, some new knowledge was acquired along the way.
What I remember most about that trip was that the agronomy or “Agro” students had a rivalry (sometimes friendly and sometimes not) with the engineers. Not surprisingly, the engineers had the technological upper hand; they had a device capable of firing melon-sized projectiles at unsuspecting agronomy students. But, not to be outdone, the Agros had the tactical advantage of a classroom on the third floor overlooking an important walking path…and access to a water hose.
Which side of the campus war did I want to be on? That was the bizarre question that captured my imagination on the trip back to my home town.
But what is really bizarre, is that I never got around to actually talking to any recent agronomy students or engineering students who had jobs doing what they were trained to do. If I was seriously thinking about becoming an Engineer don’t you think it would make sense to make an effort to talk to one and ask a few questions?
But I never did. Instead, I applied to the College of Engineering (partly because I didn’t know what else to do), got accepted and then privately agonized over whether or not I should go. Looking back, I didn’t make nearly enough effort to get the information I really needed in order to make a wise decision.
Confusion set in for good reason. I didn’t know what I wanted to do partly because I didn’t take the time or put in the right kind of effort to find out.
In case you are wondering, I never did become an Engineer. And for this the world can be eternally thankful. Enough things fall apart as it is. But being a slow learner, I went on to apply to the College of Education without ever talking to anyone who worked as a primary or secondary teacher. What was I thinking!?
Back then, my general approach was to collect as many college catalogues as possible, stare at them in a prolonged and confused state until I ran out of time, and then make a wild leap in a mostly random career direction.
© Career & Life Direction 2015. All rights reserved.