Category Archives: Finding Work

The Jesus Way: a Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way, by Eugene H. Peterson [Book Review]

JesusWay-EugenePeterson-09142009I wonder if Peterson’s primary starting place is the modern evangelical tendency to use pragmatic business methods to attempt to accomplish God’s much larger purposes. Peterson says as much on page 1. He notes how we unhesitatingly embrace the ways and means of the culture. And yet we remain ignorant (perhaps willfully so) of the ways and means of Jesus. So Peterson set out to show what Jesus’ way looked like. Along the route he shows how Abraham, Moses, Elijah and David and others walked that way.  Abraham’s (near) sacrifice of Isaac takes center stage as a test of how obedient he would be, and serves as a model for our own obedience when the way toward God’s promise is murky. All the people mentioned above help flesh out this way of utter obedience and resistance to the simple solutions the culture offers. On the other hand, the way of Herod and Josephus show how not to follow Jesus, with their self-focus and willingness to let expediency rule.

The book has been a marvelous balm as I try to make counter-culture moves with my own work life. In particular, seeing that God’s plans have not offer looked like the career that our culture has recently touted. Of course, today, since loyalty between companies and employees is largely dead, lots of people are rethinking how and if ”success” and ”career” fit together. For most today, a career is assumed to include several companies before the silver chord is severed. 

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Seeking New Direction. Finding Solid Ground.

DSCN7090Active waiting: when you’ve done all you can to move in this new direction, but God needs to open the door. Where to stand while you are waiting? Check out Finding Solid Ground in Slender Times at the The High Calling. org.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work [Book Review]

Worth reading.

Awaiting the Axe

The announcement came mid-morning: “Department meeting. Five minutes. Outside Bill’s office.” I wandered forward through the low beige cubicles with a vague sense of dread. New to this big company, I didn’t have a history with such impromptu meetings. Others took one last puff and ground out their cigarettes, took a last sip of coffee and slowly stood. Putting on blue blazers. Adjusting ties.

 

The meeting didn’t take long.

 

Bill opened his office door and cigarette smoke wafted out toward the ceiling tiles. He stood fidgety in the doorway, looking at faces then at his feet.

 

“You know the economy has been rough on us. Today we adjust. Our department is affected. I’ll be talking with everybody today about layoffs, one by one.”

 

He glanced around at the faces one more time.

 

“That’s it.”

 

And so began the steady stream of friends and colleagues marching into the corner office. In the mid-1980s when I started working, that’s the way it was: Smoking, blazers, ties and layoffs. The big company I worked for made everything from cluster bombs (Dangerous!) to thermostats (dangerous if lobbed into another cubicle). But in a down economy, neither cluster bombs nor thermostats could save you from that corner office talk. Month after relentless month, the layoffs poured out of the corner offices in that company and throughout the city. For the old timers, talk turned to retirement packages. Do I catch it this time? Or do I wait for the next one—and will that package be any sweeter? For everybody else, the primary question was “when” the axe falls, never “if.”

 

Employment as a betting game was new to me. Dad spent 35 years with IBM, so…isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? Actually, no. That loyalty was a blip on the historical radar screen of workplace relations. Of course now it makes intuitive sense that companies are loyal and have always been loyal to revenue and profit. Where employees help grow revenue and/or profit, there is a limited loyalty to them too. Maybe the hard lessons of economic downturn must be relearned by each generation. Certainly each generation comes up with new answers. Out of those sweaty rounds of layoffs, those off-kilter days of trying to work with the axe whooshing overhead, my generation learned we need to be active players in the workplace, though it’s a lesson we need to relearn every so often. Passivity draws the buzzing chainsaw toward your cubicle. We learned to keep skills portable, so they could travel from company to company, just like our 401k (wait, let’s not talk about that).

 

But one true thing to fall out of those early layoffs and most of the upturns and downturns to follow, was a sense of being alive. Maybe that sounds bombastic, overly optimistic and naive, but…not so. Some of my favorite people got the axe and eventually found themselves on their feet doing exactly what they were meant to do, which brings me to the recognition that while layoffs look, taste and smell like burning evil in the short run, they may actually do many of us a favor by pulling back the curtain to reveal someone else’s career plan for me which may or may not coincide with where my career (not to mention my life) should go. And, for better or worse, struggle is part of figuring out the true North means to us. And who wants to struggle down some narrow path when paychecks and health insurance line the broad interstate like mile markers?

 

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Is Freelance Writing a Career?

Before you say “Yes. Of course!” (with proper righteous indignation), consider that a career seems to move a person toward increasing levels of responsibility, toward tasks that require more maturity, toward more money (one can dream). Pick any company and follow the career path of say…well…how about a communication specialist? The communication specialist will write, manage projects, take care of details. They do well, so they are promoted to communication manager. In that position, they do some of the same tasks, though in lesser quantities, plus they manage people. They do well and graduate to director. In that position they have no project work, write only memos and emails, sit in meetings discussing what they’re teams are doing, aren’t doing and should be doing. And so a career proceeds until stopped at the individual’s level of incompetence.

 

This management person who was (possibly) a writer is now not writing at all and is instead directing others who carry out communication tactics. To many that is a satisfying, perfectly reasonable trajectory. And even for those who write or love to create, they can find opportunities in those positions to use their creativity to positively influence others. I’ve known some creative folks who have risen to management positions and done very well at creating imaginative and loyal teams and organizations.

 

But for others, this career path represents gradual movement away from craft, and away from the heart of what made work fun in the first place. A career presupposes that new skills are developed even as vision widens, which lands a person in a different job. But that is not quite the case for freelance writers. They often entertain dreams of, well, writing. It’s what they want to do. And so a career path for a freelance writer is less about successive positions (especially since freelancing is by definition outside typical corporate structures with their fixed paths) and more about finding work and the work itself.

 

The work itself is the career path for a freelance writer. Where there is joy in completing the work, where there is curiosity about how communication tools can fit to new situations and how those tools can resolve substantial problems—those are the milestones on the freelance writer’s career path. And over time, the writer finds herself or himself accomplishing a set of tasks with maturity and grace (one can hope). And looking back, the craft that helped accomplish tasks and assignments will have the distinct look of a career.

 

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How is Work Changing You?

Every day you go to work and change stuff: you pound or ratchet or type or speak or listen or direct. Your try to move a product or process or people forward. And every day your work changes you.

We work to live. And we live to work. That’s true for all of us (vs. just the workaholics). We live to work the work we were meant for. Sometimes we’re paid to toil at that work every day. Sometimes we attend our life work after the daily shift. Happy is the man or woman who fits together their life work and daily work—even if only for fleeting moments.

Daily work shapes us. There’s the people: Bosses and companies who spend themselves seeking keys to motivate employees and then rewarding them at every turn. Then there are bosses and companies that reward selfish ambition and turn kind people into bastards. I’ve worked for both. We need to know who we want to become because our environment (including the people we hang with) always rubs off on us. And vice versa.

Then there’s the work itself: creative work that demands insight and penetrating perspectives—and builds those qualities into the worker as the worker applies him or herself. Relational work that builds compassion, patience and wisdom even as the worker feels the very lack of each quality. Or repetitious work that may bore, but can allow thoughts to wander in productive ways even while attending the details. And there is the work the worker cannot stand that brings death and loathing with each moment spent.Maybe we should pick jobs that accomplish the financial goal as best as possible, but have a component that lets us grow. That kind of work is worth praying for—which is possibly the most productive work we can engage in.

“The work itself will teach you how to do it.”–Estonian Proverb

How To Find Work

dscn5638.jpgMy world is inhabited by long-term corporate people and freelancers. There are non-profit visionaries and seminarians without a clue about what’s next. Writers, copywriters, hackers, malcontents and even a few anarchists—all with a sense of work in common. In a recent conversation with two friends facing work transition, we discussed the difficulty of getting in front of the right people, and the seeming serendipity involved: one needs to be in the right place at the right time for the right work to result. From our conversation, these are the steps involved with finding the right work:

 

  1. Know you need work. This is not exactly self-evident, especially when you are way too busy with an overflowing plate of stuff to do. Independent workers know this well: work can vanish into thin air in the space of an hour (and appear again just as fast, frankly), so looking for work is always on the independent worker’s radar. But knowing you need work is no less important for one’s corporate life. Even seeming secure positions in seeming secure industries have a way of vanishing quickly. The quick vanishing trick points to the illusory nature of much of our work. Industries can change. Bosses get up grumpy and fire you. Whether an independent worker or a corporate cog, we must always have the sense of what our work is, how we do it, and why it is important. What we know becomes our best insurance against the whims of leadership.
  2. Know your way to serve. There is something unique to each of us, something only I can do. It’s the rare boss who helps you find what this is. Most have a notion of the work they want accomplished. Your purpose, as an employee, is to fit that preconceived mold. But if equipped with your own understanding of the productive work you can uniquely offer, then you also have a sense of what work you really should refuse. Of course, that takes courage. It’s not easy to let go of a paycheck. On the other hand, sometimes the cost of a paycheck is in the atrophying of your skills and loss of vision.
  3. Knock on doors. And don’t stop because those doors remain closed or even open. While contacting people remember that you have something valuable to, provide them. My own sense is that the God of the Universe is also the God who opens (and closes) doors according to some much larger plan.
  4. Remain thankful. Here’s where a bit of theology enters: it is the God of the universe who supplies sunlight and rain, opportunity and billable hours. Where we go and what we do ends up being who we are.

     

     

 

 

Job by job, we end up doing what we’re meant to do.