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My recent post “You Are Not Your Job. Really” talked about inspirational “roadblocks” that get us thinking about the meaning of our work. Many people identify so strongly with their job, letting it become an indicator of their worth as a person, that they work long hours and neglect their personal lives in an effort to become “successful.”

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about this every once in a while. When time stretches between jobs, I worry that I’m in the wrong profession, making the immediate absence of a job a barometer of my success. Writing assignments = success in this crazy, pointless scenario.

A couple Saturdays ago, I attended a seminar by Dr. Peter Steinke on “Leadership in Anxious Times.” It centered around the church’s role in our changing lives, but much of what Steinke discussed fit easily into everyday life. Steinke regularly counsels churches in crisis – those facing shrinking membership, dealing with internal problems, or uncertain of their significance in our changing culture.

How can you make your work matter?Don’t we all struggle with that every now and then? Our own significance in a changing culture? And if we throw job identity into the mix, it’s even hairier.

What we’re really asking, deep down, is, “Does my work matter? Do I matter?”

Interestingly, Steinke’s answer to these churches (and to us) is the same – it’s not about you.

He turns the focus of each church outward, telling them to interview local leaders – firemen, teachers, hospital administrators – to discover unmet needs in the community. The church can then step in to meet some of those needs. After all, Steinke pointed out, the early church was created and driven by those who served – tending the sick, the poor, the dying – when no one else could or would step in.

siberian irisesI’d guess you feel best when you know your work has helped someone else. I know I do. One of the memories I cherish is when I interviewed a seamstress who sews beautiful doll clothes. My article appeared in the local paper, and a few weeks later, this lady called to thank me. Not for the article, but for the fact that a local organization contacted her after the article ran. They wanted her to give sewing lessons to this group, many of whom suffer from arthritis. The hope was that the classes would serve as double therapy: help for hurting hands and a way for them to sew for others. A great feeling to know that I had participated in that, in some small way.

It’s the intention behind our work that gives it meaning. Not the titles we assume to make ourselves feel important. Whether we work with animals in need, teach at-risk students how to write better, or indulge our love of gardening to grow flowers to share, the result is similar – we’re reaching beyond ourselves to create something better for someone else. 

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