Tag Archives: vocation

Rising to Your Level of Misery

dirty-jobs30They can’t pay you enough money to do a job you hate.

I have a lot of lasting memories of my grandfather–homegrown tomatoes, “Heart and Soul” duets on the piano–but that’s the primary piece of wisdom I remember him passing along to me. And it’s a good one.

I was thinking about Grandpa’s advice when I read a recent piece in the New York Times, Rising to Your Level of Misery at Work. In it Arthur Brooks talks about the tendency to get promoted past the place where you find joy and passion in your profession:

People generally have a “bliss zone,” a window of creative work and responsibility to match their skills and passions. But then the problems start. Those who love being part of teams and creative processes are promoted to management. Happy engineers become stressed-out supervisors. Writers find themselves in charge of other writers and haranguing them over deadlines. In my years in academia, I saw happy professors become bitter deans, constantly reminiscing about the old days doing cutting-edge research and teaching the classes they loved.

Brooks says many people respond to this happiness gap by drinking heavily. What he recommends instead is finding a way back to that bliss point. As my mother said recently, “Whenever I was feeling sad, I had a friend who told me to remember the last time I was happy and then return to what I was doing then.” I like it.

But it’s not easy. Maybe the last time you were happy was before the chronic illness struck, or during your marriage that has now ended. In the case of work, sometimes shifting things away from misery means lost income you’ve come to count on. More deeply, we’re conditioned to see success as a function of progress. Moving back is synonymous with failure.

This article was tugging at me for several days last week until I finally figured out why: both my husband and I have been in this situation in recent years. In his case, he revised his job description to better reflect his gifts and his value to his industry. In my case, I have been invited to apply for positions that would make sense on a certain assumed trajectory: You’ve been a pastor of a small church? How about a larger church? In one case, I got pretty far along in the process before realizing that the job, as wonderful as it was, was not mine to do. Of course, not every job is pure bliss–even the bliss zone has its headaches. But as I joked to a friend soon after taking myself out of the running, “That’s a good ulcer. It’s just not my ulcer.”

In my husband’s and my case, we didn’t make these moves because of some special cleverness on our part. It was the practice of Sabbath over the course of many years that showed us the way and helped us clarify what we love, what we value and what we want our lives to look like. That’s what makes it such an important practice. I’ve preached on the story of the Hebrew people as slaves in Egypt and how Pharaoh heaped more and more work on them. And I said, “Sabbath isn’t about being well rested so you can go back to Pharaoh’s job site. Sabbath is about realizing that you don’t want to make those bricks anymore.”

~

Photo is Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs, whom I wrote about in a post awhile back called ‘Follow Your Bliss’ and Other Myths about Call.

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A Pastor without a Congregation

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“Welcome to outside the dome, Traveler. We have been waiting for you.”

Of all the messages I received on my last day of pastoral ministry, this may be my favorite.

I’ve been a pastor for the better part of twelve years, and worked in parish ministry for a good six years before that. The only thing that’s lasted longer in my adult life is my marriage. Until Adam asked me to write for this series, I hadn’t thought much about pastoral identity because for a long time now, pastor=me and me=pastor.

That doesn’t mean I had no life outside of pastoral ministry. Nor does it suggest that I approach my everyday life all “ministered up.” I mean it more in the sense of seeking congruence in my professional and personal identity. I want to be the same person in the pulpit as I am with the swim team carpool—though there are obviously different expectations and norms in each place.

Now I’m a pastor without a congregation.

READ THE REST at Adam Walker Cleaveland’s blog Pomomusings. And check out his whole series on pastoral identity.

Ministry: It’s a ‘Dirty Job’!

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Mike Rowe

I love a good blog-bounce! That’s a word I just made up to describe a conversation that begins on one blog and bounces to another. In this case, my friend Rocky Supinger riffed on my recent post, I Don’t Believe in Soul Mates. He wisely extended the argument to our vocations in his post, I Don’t Believe in Soul Mates, The Job Version:

A canon of mythology has grown up around pursuing work we love, including the ubiquitous charge to “find your passion” and the well-meaning question that was posed to me almost daily in college: “what is God calling you to do with your life?” That mythology puts a ton of unnecessary pressure on people to pick the right work or else miss their God-given calling. And it obscures both the gift and the responsibility we have to work with our lives.

…We are called and suited to particular kinds of work, I believe, and God cares a great deal about how we steward the talents we’ve been given. But we should not expect passion to persist at all times in our work, and we certainly should not conclude that when energy fades so has our calling.

I couldn’t agree more, and his words reminded me of a treasured bit of wisdom from Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame and written for Forbes back in 2008. His piece is called It’s a Dirty Job, and I Love It! and should be read in its entirety, and not just because he talks about castrating a lamb with his teeth. (And you thought budget and finance meetings were unpleasant!)

Here’s the money quote:

In the long history of inspirational pabulum, “follow your passion” has got to be the worst. Even if this drivel were confined to the borders of the cheap plastic frames that typically surround it, I’d condemn the whole sentiment as dangerous, not because it’s cliché, but because so many people believe it. Over and over, people love to talk about the passion that guided them to happiness. When I left high school–confused and unsure of everything–my guidance counselor assured me that it would all work out, if I could just muster the courage to follow my dreams. My Scoutmaster said to trust my gut. And my pastor advised me to listen to my heart. What a crock.

Why do we do this? Why do we tell our kids–and ourselves–that following some form of desire is the key to job satisfaction? If I’ve learned anything from this show, it’s the folly of looking for a job that completely satisfies a “true purpose.” In fact, the happiest people I’ve met over the last few years have not followed their passion at all–they have instead brought it with them.

Now this is a little different than Rocky’s point, which is that you can be called to something even if it doesn’t set your world on fire all the time. But the basic point is similar.

What do you say?

Following Your Call: Building on Buechner

Two weeks ago Tiny Church held a leadership retreat for our elders, deacons and transformation team (which is fond of calling itself the transformers… more than meets the eye!). It was a fruitful day. We’ve got a number of exciting things on the horizon, including our 100th anniversary celebration in 2014 and a potential building renovation.

Jessica Tate, the director of NEXT Church, led us in a morning of teaching and reflection on the current state of the mainline church and some of the cultural shifts we’re all weathering. At the end of the morning she set us up for an afternoon of nuts and bolts discussions by helping us answer a fundamental question: What is our particular call in this place and time? 

I’ve written before about my ambivalence with traditional understandings of vocation, what Frederick Buechner defines as the intersection between the world’s deep need and a person’s deep gladness. What Jessica offered was much more comprehensive because it offered three different areas of focus, each as indispensable as the other:

1. What are the needs of our community?

2. What gifts and resources do we offer to help address these needs?

3. What kinds of ministries energize us as a community?

These three questions come from the book and website Church Unique by Will Mancini and are illustrated in this diagram:

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What a revelation! It makes Buechner’s rickety two-legged stool much more sturdy and stable.

I’ve heard for years at Tiny Church, “Let’s bring back the Harvest Dinners!” This beloved tradition and ministry to the community pre-dates me, yet they’re remembered by enough people that I feel like if they could be resumed, they would be by now. I suspect that the harvest dinners meet criteria #3 (excitement) but not #2 (gifts and resources), and perhaps not #1 (needs of the community).

And there are plenty of examples in our churches of ministries that combine #1 (need) and #2 (resources) but are completely devoid of #3 (excitement). These are the programs that we keep doing forever and ever, world without end, despite their sucking our will to live.

Our Sunday School ministry was a bit like that until we decided to move to the Upper Room model. Or maybe you read about The Well at Burke Presbyterian Church.

These three questions would also work on a personal level. My kids are years away from college, but I hope that when the time comes for them to choose a major, that they consider all three of these questions. I know parents who steer their kids toward business or technical field because (they feel) it satisfies #1… but it may not satisfy 2 or 3.

On the other side, I’m bracing myself for the day when Caroline announces she wants to major in musical theatre.

“Follow Your Bliss” and Other Myths about Call

These days I know a startling number of pastors and seminary graduates who cannot find jobs in the church. Some are geographically limited by spouses—many of whom are pursuing their “dream job” while the wife (and in virtually every case it’s the wife) languishes in under- or unemployment. Some of my friends are quirky, or young, or gay, or they lack the pedigree to get a second look from churches who’ve realized that they can afford to be choosy, what with this glut of talent out there.

It’s very frustrating. It’s frustrating for me as their friend, because these are incredibly talented people who’ve been seminary trained, tested, pushed and prodded, folded and spindled through the call process. But my frustration is only a fraction of what they must feel. Plus, they need to eat.

Add in the people who are in ministry calls that don’t really “fit,” but whose options are limited for various reasons, and I wonder if aspects of our theology of call has outlived its fruitfulness.

When I was in the call process, it was all about the Frederick Buechner quote: Your vocation is where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need. This was practically tattooed on people’s foreheads as we all bustled our way toward paid ministry in the church. So what do we do with people who’ve discerned a call to parish ministry, but there are no jobs available? Were they just wrong? I can see how people would feel like their gladness and the world’s need do not intersect, but rather run parallel to each other.

Even my current favorite quote can be problematic. Howard Thurman:

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Sometimes, it isn’t possible to pull and Thurman and “go and do” what makes us come alive. Sometimes we need to find a way to come alive in the exact place where we do not feel called to be.

A friend recently said she felt stuck in a less-than-ideal situation. The extrovert in me blurted out without thinking, “Maybe it’s not that you’re stuck. Maybe you’re being held in this place until you’ve learned what you need to know in order to move to the next thing.” I kicked myself later, because it’s presumptuous of me to lay that on someone else. Sometimes the situation is just bad and we need to get out, call or no call.

So let me put it in an “I” statement: I have sometimes felt stuck, and in hindsight, many of those stuck places gave me precisely the structure and boundaries I needed to work on some things to be ready to move on.

The Danas are big fans of Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame. He wrote a wise piece for Forbes some years ago about traditional career advice in relation to the chicken sexers, lamb castraters and spider-venom collectors he meets on his show:

In the long history of inspirational pabulum, “follow your passion” has got to be the worst. Even if this drivel were confined to the borders of the cheap plastic frames that typically surround it, I’d condemn the whole sentiment as dangerous, not because it’s cliché, but because so many people believe it. Over and over, people love to talk about the passion that guided them to happiness. When I left high school–confused and unsure of everything–my guidance counselor assured me that it would all work out, if I could just muster the courage to follow my dreams. My Scoutmaster said to trust my gut. And my pastor advised me to listen to my heart. What a crock.

Why do we do this? Why do we tell our kids–and ourselves–that following some form of desire is the key to job satisfaction? If I’ve learned anything from this show, it’s the folly of looking for a job that completely satisfies a “true purpose.” In fact, the happiest people I’ve met over the last few years have not followed their passion at all–they have instead brought it with them.

I realize that follow your passion isn’t exactly the same as Buechner’s deep gladness and Thurman’s coming alive. But I think they’re related.

My husband has had a very fruitful career in IT, doing a number of different things over his twenty years in that field. Not all of his jobs have been awesome. Yet he’s content with the path he’s taken. And aside from a brief stint with a career counselor, he doesn’t put that much thought into The Next Step or how a specific move will “set him up” for the move after that. And there’s no five or ten year plan. He’s simply done the next right thing as it’s presented itself.

The whole thing drives me a little crazy because I’m a big goal-setter and plan-maker. It feels reactive to do it his way. But I can’t argue with what I see, which is a man who’s pretty content with where he is, and who somehow ends up with satisfying work that puts food on the table.

It sounds a bit like the “yes-and” of improv, eh?