THE JOYFUL CHRISTIAN LIFE #4
From the book
THE GIFTS OF IMPERFECTION
by Rene Brown, PhD
Cultivating Meaningful Work
LETTING GO OF SELF-DOUBT AND "SUPPOSED TO"
In the chapter on creativity, I wrote that a significant part of my work involves making connections. In fact, the heart of my work is finding and naming the subtle and often unspoken connections between how we think, feel, and act. Sometimes the connections are easy to spot and fall right into place. Other times they are elusive, and trying to put things together feels messy and tangled. This guidepost started out as one of those messy and tangled experiences, but with time, I learned about some striking connections.
Early in this research, it was clear to me that living a Wholehearted life included engaging in what many people I interviewed called meaningful work. Others spoke of having a calling. And some simply described feeling a tremendous sense of accomplishment and purpose from their work. It all seemed pretty straightforward, except for this pesky list of words that emerged as being important and somehow connected to the quest for meaningful work:
gifts and talents
making a living
I say pesky because it took me a long time to figure out how they all worked together. The exhausted part of me wanted to forget about these "extra" words, much like what Steve does when he puts together furniture from IKEA and there are twelve unused screws when he's done. I wanted to stand back, give it a little shake, and say, "Good enough! These must be extras."
But I couldn't. So I took apart the idea of meaningful work, interviewed more participants, found the connections, and rebuilt the guide-post. This is what emerged:
We all have gifts and talents. When we cultivate those gifts and share them with the world, we create a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.
Squandering our gifts brings distress to our lives. As it turns out, it's not merely benign or "too bad" if we don't use the gifts that we've been given; we pay for it with our emotional and physical well-being. When we don't use our talents to cultivate meaningful work, we struggle. We feel disconnected and weighed down by feelings of emptiness, frustration, resentment, shame, disappointment, fear, and even grief.
[WHEN I LIVED IN OSHAWA, ONTARIO, I HAD MANY PARENTS OF THE GUITAR STUDENTS I HAD, WHO WORKED FOR THE GM MOTOR FACTORY; BACK THEN IT EMPLOYED THOUSANDS. NEAR ALL THE ONES I MET SAID THEY HATED THE JOB AND WERE THERE FOR THE PAYCHECK - Keith Hunt]
Most of us who are searching for spiritual connection spend too much time looking up at the sky and wondering why God lives so far away. God lives within us, not above us. Sharing our gifts and talents with the world is the most powerful source of connection with God.
Using our gifts and talents to create meaningful work takes a tremendous amount of commitment, because in many cases the meaningful work is not what pays the bills. Some folks have managed to align everything—they use their gifts and talents to do work that feeds their souls and their families; however, most people piece it together.
No one can define what's meaningful for us. Culture doesn't get to dictate if it's working outside the home, raising children, lawyering, teaching, or painting. Like our gifts and talents, meaning is unique to each one of us.
Self-Doubt and "Supposed To"
The gauntlet of gremlins can get in the way of cultivating meaningful work. They start by taunting us about our gifts and talents:
• "Maybe everyone has special gifts . . . except for you. Maybe that's
why you haven't found them yet."
• "Yes, you do that well, but that's not really a gift. It's not big enough
or important enough to be a real talent."
Self-doubt undermines the process of finding our gifts and sharing them with the world. Moreover, if developing and sharing our gifts is how we honor spirit and connect with God, self-doubt is letting our fear undermine our faith.
The gremlins get lots of mileage out of "supposed to"—the battle cry of fitting in, perfectionism, people-pleasing, and proving ourselves:
"You're supposed to care about making money, not meaning."
"You're supposed to grow up and be a Everyone's counting on it."
"You're supposed to hate your work; that's the definition of work."
"If you're brave, you're supposed to quit your job and follow your
bliss. Don't worry about money!"
"You're supposed to choose: Work you love or work that supports
the people you love."
To overcome self-doubt and "supposed to," we have to start owning the messages. What makes us afraid? What's on our "supposed to" list? Who says? Why?
Gremlins are like toddlers. If you ignore them, they get louder. It's usually best to just acknowledge the messages. Write them down. I know it seems counterintuitive, but writing them down and owning the gremlins' messages doesn't give the messages more power; it gives us more power. It gives us the opportunity to say, "I get it. I see that I'm afraid of this, but I'm going to do it anyway."
Nice to Meet You. What Do You Do?
In addition to the gremlins, another thing that gets in the way of meaningful work is the struggle to define who we are and what we do in an honest way. In a world that values the primacy of work, the most common question that we ask and get asked is, "What do you do?" I used to wince every time someone asked me this question. I felt like my choices were to reduce myself to an easily digestible sound bite or to confuse the hell out of people.
Now my answer to "What do you do?" is, "How much time do you have?"
Most of us have complicated answers to this question. For example, I'm a mom, partner, researcher, writer, storyteller, sister, friend, daughter, and teacher. All of these things make up who I am, so I never know how to answer that question. And, to be honest with you, I'm tired of choosing to make it easier on the person who asked.
In 2009, I met Marci Alboher, an author/speaker/coach. If you're wondering what's up with the slashes, I think they're very appropriate as Marci is the author of One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success.
Alboher interviewed hundreds of people pursuing multiple careers simultaneously and discovered how slash careers—researcher/storyteller, artist/real estate agent—integrate and fully express the multiple passions, talents, and interests that a single career cannot accommodate. Marci's book is full of stories about people who have created meaningful work by refusing to be defined by a single career. Examples include a longshoreman/documentary filmmaker, a management consultant/ cartoonist, a lawyer/chef, a rabbi/stand-up comic, a surgeon/playwright, an investment manager/rapper, and a therapist/violin maker.
I wanted to share the idea of the slash effect with you because in the blogging, art, and writing world, I meet so many people who are afraid to claim their work. For example, I recently met a woman at a social media conference who is an accountant/jeweler. I was excited to meet her, because I had bought a beautiful pair of earrings from her online. When I asked her how long she had been a jeweler, she blushed and said, "I wish. I'm a CPA. I'm not a real jeweler."
I thought to myself, I'm wearing your earrings right now, not your abacus. When I pointed to my ears and said, "Of course you're a jewelry maker!" she just smiled and replied, "I don't make very much money doing that. I just do it because I love it." As ludicrous as that sounded to me, I get it. I hate calling myself a writer because it doesn't feel legitimate to me. I'm not writer enough. Overcoming self-doubt is all about believing we're enough and letting go of what the world says we're supposed to be and supposed to call ourselves.
Every semester I share this quote by theologian Howard Thurman with my graduate students. It's always been one of my favorites, but now that I've studied the importance of meaningful work, it's taken on new significance: "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
Get Deliberate: It can take some time to figure out how to get deliberate about doing meaningful work. I finally got very specific and wrote down my own criteria for "meaningful." Right now, just for me, I want my work to be inspiring, contemplative, and creative. I'm using these as a filter to make decisions about what I do/what I commit to/how I spend my time.
Get Inspired: I highly recommend Marci Alboher's One Person/ Multiple Careers. It includes lots of practical strategies for living the slash. Malcom Gladwell is also a constant source of inspiration for me. In his book Outliers, Gladwell proposes that there are three criteria for meaningful work—complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward—and that these can often be found in creative work. These criteria absolutely fit with what cultivating meaningful work means in the context of the Wholehearted journey. Last, I think everyone should read Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist—I try to read it at least once a year. It's a powerful way of seeing the connections between our gifts, our spirituality, and our work (slashed or not) and how they come together to create meaning in our lives.
Get Going: Make a list of the work that inspires you. Don't be practical. Don't think about making a living; think about doing something you love. There's nothing that says you have to quit your day job to cultivate meaningful work. There's also nothing that says your day job isn't meaningful work—maybe you've just never thought of it that way. What's your ideal slash? What do you want to be when you grow up? What brings meaning to you?
How do you DIG Deep?
I HAVE THOUGHT WHAT WOULD I LIKE ON SAY MY TOMBSTONE. A LONG TIME AGO I THOUGHT ABOUT THIS. WAY BEFORE EVER READING THIS CHAPTER FROM RENE’S BOOK. FOR I HAVE BEEN BLESSED TO BE ABLE TO DO 4 THINGS IN MY LIFE THAT I LOVE.
I’VE THOUGHT MAYBE I SHOULD HAVE ON MY TOMBSTONE:
HERE LIES AN ORTHOPEDIC SHEOMAKER/A SINGER YODELER, GUITAR TEACHER/A COWBOY, HORSE TRAINER/AND ESPECIALLY A MINISTER OF JESUS CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH.
I HAVE HAD ALL OF THOSE OCCUPATIONS IN MY LIFETIME, SOMETIMES TWO AT A TIME. AT AGE 40 I WAS ORDAINED TO THE MINISTRY OF CHRIST JESUS, AND THAT BECAME MY ONE AND MOST IMPORTANT JOB, AND WILL REMAIN SO UNTIL I DIE OR JESUS RETURNS. BEFORE AGE 40 WAS A COWBOY AND HORSE TRAINER AND AT THE SAME TIME AN ORTHOPEDIC SHOEMAKER. AFTER AGE 40 I WAS FIRST A MINISTER FOR JESUS AND A MUSIC TEACHER [TEACHING GUITAR, BANJO, MANDOLIN] HERE AND THERE.
I LOOK BACK AND SEE I WAS BLESSED INDEED TO BE ABLE TO WORK AT FOUR JOBS I ABSOLUTELY LOVED, THE FOURTH ONE MY MOST LOVED AND MOST IMPORTANT, BUT THE JOY OF THE OTHER THREE WAS ALSO WONDERFUL TO DO. THE PEOPLE I HAVE SERVED IN THOSE 3 SECULAR JOBS HAS BEEN FANTASTIC; MY FOURTH AND PRESENT MAIN JOB OF SERVING IN JESUS’ MINISTRY….WELL I HAVE NO WORDS TO DESCRIBE THE BLESSING IT HAS AND STILL IS TO ME.
SO YES I FULLY UNDERSTAND ABOUT THE / IN DESCRIBING WHAT YOU DO IN LIFE.
AS THEY SAY OR COULD SAY: MY LIFE HAS BEEN A BLAST!