Peter Drucker, from his article “Managing Oneself” (pdf):
Successful careers are not planned.
They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values. Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person — hardworking and competent but otherwise mediocre — into an outstanding performer.
A helpful resource that fleshes this out is Daniel Pink’s The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need.
There are two types of work in this world. The first is the laborious kind, which I call “work with obligation.” It’s work that we do because of a contractual obligation. The second – very different – type of work that we do is “work with intention.”
When we are working with intention, we toil away endlessly – often through the wee hours of the morning – on projects we care about deeply. Whether it is building an intricate replica model of an ancient ship, or pulling an all-nighter to write a song or map out an idea for a new business, you do it because you love it.
If you can put “work with intention” at the center of your efforts, you’re more likely to make an impact in what matters most to you. So, how do we find (and foster) work with intention in our lives and projects?
I’ve been talking for the last couple of days on the value of having a job that you love. If you aren’t content in your current job, of course, the first thing to consider is how you might be able to craft it and shape it in a way that is more in line with your strengths.
But if the discontent remains, perhaps it’s worth considering something radical. Something more radical than just switching jobs. Maybe it’s worth thinking about missions.
I’m not suggesting here that secular employment or a non-profit or ministry role in the US is less valuable than doing missions. Rather, I’m just suggesting that, if you are discontent in your job and the discontent tends to remain, it’s worth considering missions as one of the possibilities for what’s next.
Here’s how John Piper puts it at the end of Don’ t Waste Your Life:
The Meaning of Your Discontent
Many of you should stay where you are in your present job, and simply ponder how you can fit your particular skills and relationships and resources more strategically into the global purposes of your heavenly Father.
But for others reading this book, it is going to be different. Many of you are simply not satisfied with what you are doing. As J. Campbell White said, the output of your lives is not satisfying your deepest spiritual ambitions.
We must be careful here. Every job has its discouragements and its seasons of darkness. We must not interpret such experiences automatically as a call to leave our post.
But if the discontent with your present situation is deep, recurrent, and lasting, and if that discontent grows in Bible-saturated soil, God may be calling you to a new work. If, in your discontent, you long to be holy, to walk pleasing to the Lord, and to magnify Christ with your one, brief life, then God may indeed be loosening your roots in order to transplant you to a place and a ministry where the deep spiritual ambitions of your soul can be satisfied.
It is true that God can be known and enjoyed in every legitimate vocation; but when he deploys you from one place to the next, he offers fresh and deeper drinking at the fountain of his fellowship. God seldom calls us to an easier life, but always calls us to know more of him and drink more deeply of his sustaining grace. . . .
Big issues are in the offing. May God help you. May God free you. May God give you a fresh, Christ-exalting vision for your life — whether you go to an unreached people or stay firmly and fruitfully at your present post. May your vision get its meaning from God’s great purpose to make the nations glad in him. May the cross of Christ be your only boast, and may you say, with sweet confidence, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Yesterday I argued from the principles in 1 Corinthians 7:39-40 that our own happiness is a legitimate consideration in making major life decisions. This is how Paul sees the choice to marry, and it seems that the same principle carries through to other areas of freedom, such as what job to choose.
Today I wanted to give a helpful example of this. As I’ve argued before, choosing a job that you want to do is typically the path to greater effectiveness. Here’s an example that illustrates that, from William Lane Craig (a top Christian apologist), from his book On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision:
Jan and I have found that in our life together, the Lord usually shows us only enough light along the path to take the next step without knowing what lies further down the trail. So one evening as Jan and I were nearing the end of our time at Trinity, we were sitting at the supper table, talking about what to do after graduation. Neither of us had any clear idea or leading as to what we should do.
At that point Jan said to me, “Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?”
I replied, “If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to England and do a doctorate under John Hick.”
He goes on to tell the story of writing a letter to inquire about studying with Dr. Hick, getting accepted, how God brought the money together for this in spite of the fact that they were “as poor as church mice,” and how his studies in England turned out to be foundational to the whole rest of his ministry.
This is a great example of choosing a job (or, in this case, the next step along the path) for fundamental reasons rather than instrumental reasons.
In other words, doing what you find meaningful in itself is usually the path to greatest joy and effectiveness, rather than trying to take a lot of steps that you don’t want to take, but which seem “necessary” to get where you want to go. Craig’s story here is as good of an example of that as any — especially since he pursued it in spite of many obstacles in the way, and the Lord provided.
I know that there can be extenuating circumstances for people. But as much as you can, make career choices for fundamental reasons rather than instrumental reasons.
It’s almost silly to even ask that question. It’s like asking “Is it biblical to chose a spouse that you actually want to be with?” Yes, of course it is. Why would you marry someone you don’t want to marry? Likewise, if you have the choice (and we do much more often than we realize), why would you chose a job you aren’t excited about?
In fact, Paul’s teaching on marriage is actually a helpful analogy here, because it gives us a principle. In regard to marriage, he says: “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39). So marriage is an area of freedom — marry whom you want (as long as they are a Christian). In other words, what you want to do is not only a legitimate consideration; you are free to make your choice on that basis.
In fact, Paul goes further: “Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God” (v. 40). Now, at first it doesn’t sound like he’s going further, because he is actually recommending in this case that a widow not remarry. He’s not forbidding remarriage, but just recommending against it in this case. My point here is not to discuss whether it is better to marry or not. Rather, here’s the important point: Paul’s reason for his advice here is that she will be happier if she remains as she is.
In other words, your happiness is a valid and legitimate consideration in making life decisions. Paul is suggesting that she actually would be happier not to remarry. Again, the issue of whether someone should get married or not is not my point here. My point here is that, remarkably, Paul considers happiness a fully legitimate consideration in making the major life choice of whether to marry and whom to marry. In fact, it actually seems to be the primary consideration in the decision, since his entire reason for recommending singleness here is that this path would, he argues, result in greater happiness.
If happiness is a legitimate consideration in choosing a spouse, then it would also seem to follow that happiness is a legitimate consideration in making other life decisions as well, such as where you work and what you do for a living.
I’m not saying that there aren’t more things to take into account. But enjoying your work and having a job that suits you is a right and good and significant consideration in choosing your work.
Tomorrow I’ll give an example of what this looks like.
How, then, should this [positive] attitude toward extrabiblical intellectual training inform parents and youth groups when they prepare Christian teenagers to go to college and tell teens why college is important?
According to various studies, increasing numbers of college freshmen, on the advice of parents, say their primary goal in going to college is to get a good job and ensure a secure financial future for themselves. This parallels a trend in the same students toward valuing a good job more than developing a meaningful philosophy of life.
Given this view of a college education, it is clear why the humanities have fallen on hard times. It is equally clear why the level of our public discourse on topics central to the culture wars is so shallow, since it is precisely the humanities that train people to think carefully about these topics.
What is not so clear is why Christians, with a confidence in the providential care and provision of God, would follow the secular culture in adopting this approach to college. How different this approach is compared to the value of a college education embraced by earlier generations of Christians: A Christian goes to college to discover his vocation — the area of service to which God has called him — and to develop the skills necessary to occupy a section of the cultural, intellectual domain in a manner worthy of the kingdom of God.
A believer also goes to college to gain general information and the habits of thought necessary for developing a well-structured soul suitable for a well-informed, good citizen of both earthly and heavenly kingdoms. If the public square is naked, it may be because Christians have abandoned the humanities due to a sub-biblical appreciation for extrabiblical knowledge.
Marcus Buckingham gives a good answer to this question in The One Thing You Need to Know: … About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success:
Some people will tell you that you need a little difficulty in your life, a little grit; that, as an oyster makes a pearl, this grit will strengthen you, round you out, and polish you into something fine and valuable. No grit, they say, no pearl.
Now, of course, there is a sense in which this is true. Especially in life in general, suffering and difficulty plays a critical role in our sanctification.
But this doesn’t mean we should seek it out for it’s own sake. And, more to the point here, Buckingham is talking specifically about career choices. When it comes to your career, it is not advisable (and, I would argue, it’s not biblical, either) to purposely take a job, or allow responsibilities in your current job to be added, which grate you down.
This can sound irresponsible at first. And, of course, there are times when we just need to do things we don’t prefer for the sake of the greater mission. When it is necessary for the sake of others, we should do whatever needs to be done to serve them and make things better.
But Buckingham is here responding to the idea that it will somehow make us more effective in our work if we intentionally seek out tasks that grate us down — or allow others to impose them on us out of the misguided notion that it will be good for us.
We should be skeptical of this notion, and here’s why:
When it comes to your career, grit will only grind you down. Every minute you invest in an activity that grates on you is a poorly invested minute. It is a minute in which you will learn little and that will leave you weaker and less resilient for the next minute. It is a minute you could have spent applying and refining your strengths, a minute in which you could have taken leaps of learning and that would strengthen you for the minutes to come.
In other words, the notion that taking on tasks that drain you will make you more effective in your work is actually another form of the fallacy that we will grow most by focusing on our weaknesses. For, as I’ve blogged before, your weaknesses aren’t ultimately what you are bad at, but what drains you.
To focus on your strengths means carving out your role such that you are doing on what you do best and what strengthens you most of the time. This is how you will be most effective in your role and for your organization. I think most recognize this; but what is hard for people to see is that this means, by definition, seeking to cut out of our roles the thing that drain us, at least to the greatest extent that we can.
This is not a country club approach to work. I’m not advocating that we slack of and not work hard. Quite the opposite. We ought to work hard, be diligent, and excel in what we do, taking great pains even to do this. And we will be more effective in doing this when we are working in our strengths — the things that energize us — rather than our weaknesses.
A lot of people say it doesn’t matter much if you love your job. If you do, that’s great — it’s a bonus. But the main purpose of a job is to put food on the table, and actually liking what you do is secondary.
This is actually bad advice. There are lots of reasons, but let me mention just one: if you don’t love your job, you risk being a poor steward.
I’m not talking here about people who have no choice in the matter. In the NT exhortations on work, slaves are the best example here. A slave had little or no control over his work, and Paul said “don’t worry about it — you are serving the Lord in what you do, and he values it and will reward you” (see 1 Corinthians 7:21; Colossians 3:23-24).
But we aren’t slaves, and we do have a choice in our work. This increases our responsibility to choose wisely. And it that choice in what we do for our work is a stewardship.
And here’s how that relates to why you should do your best to seek out a job you love (or, sometimes better, turn your job in to something you love most of the time): you will be more effective in your job if you love it.
We can, of course, work hard in jobs that we don’t love. But the extra effort, the mastery that takes us above and beyond and makes us maximally effective, is fueled by enthusiasm. To the extent that you lack this enthusiasm for the activities of your work, you will be less effective. You will not be able to stretch and push yourself and grow in your knowledge and skill as highly as you could otherwise.
Which means you will not be contributing as much as you could. Which is another way of saying: you won’t be making the difference you could and serving others to the extent that, perhaps, is truly needed. You will be leaving things on the table — things that could have benefited others, and wouldn’t have necessarily required much more from you because, after all, you have to work anyway.
I don’t necessarily want to say here that it is wrong to settle for a job you don’t love. But I do want point out that finding a job you love is not ultimately a matter of serving yourself. It’s a matter of serving others, because you will be more effective for the sake of others if, most of the time, your job is something you love.
The most effective people make career choices for fundamental reasons, not instrumental reasons.
That’s one of the key take-aways from Dan Pink’s excellent book The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need.
Dan Pink’s book is excellent on two counts. First, it presents the material in a creative and engaging way: the book is actually the first American business book in manga. I was slightly familiar with this approach because the resource team at DG worked with some people a few years ago to adapt some of John Piper’s content to a graphic novel format. Dan Pink has done the same thing here, except to teach career principles.
Second, the content is helpful — and counterintuitive. Here are the six lessons of the book:
- There is no plan.
- Think strengths, not weaknesses.
- It’s not about you.
- Persistence trumps talent.
- Make excellent mistakes.
- Leave an imprint.
If I can, maybe I’ll do a series that briefly covers each of these points.
For now, here’s some advice for those who aren’t sure what to do next: make your next choice for fundamental reasons, not instrumental reasons.
Here’s how Pink explains it (via one of the characters in the book):
You can do something for instrumental reasons — because you think it’s going to lead to something else, regardless of whether you enjoy it or it’s worthwhile.
Or you can do something for fundamental reasons — because you think it’s inherently valuable, regardless of what it may or may not lead to.
And the dirty little secret is that instrumental reasons usually don’t work. Things are too complicated, too unpredictable. You never know what’s going to happen [and note that this is biblical! Proverbs 20:24; 16:9; James 4; etc.]. So you end up stuck. The most successful people — not all of the time, but most of the time — make decisions for fundamental reasons.
They take a job or join a company because it will let them do interesting work in a cool place — even if they don’t know exactly where it will lead.
There’s the key idea. If you don’t know what you want to do next, do what you think is inherently valuable. You don’t need to know where it will lead. And, almost certainly, it will lead to someplace interesting, because, first, you already are doing something interesting (that was the point of your choice!) and, second, we are more effective when we are doing what we love to do.
And even if you do have a clear goal for where you want to end up (which is a good thing), don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you will best get there by making a bunch of instrumental choices to do things you don’t really want to do, but which will “keep your options open” and eventually let you get closer to your interests. This approach usually backfires. Instead, have your large goal, but stay open to seizing unplanned opportunities to help get you there, and along the way seek to follow the path of doing what you find inherently valuable.
Seth Godin, from Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?:
The single biggest objection to changing the way you approach your job is the certainty that your boss won’t let you do anything but be a cog.
Nine times out of ten, this isn’t true. One time out of ten, you should get a new job.
Let’s take the rare case first.
If you actually work for an organization that insists you be mediocre, that enforces conformity in all its employees, why stay? What are you building?
The work can’t possibly be enjoyable or challenging, your skills aren’t increasing, and your value in the marketplace decreases each day you stay there. And if history is any guide, your job there isn’t as stable as you think, because average companies making average products for average people are under huge strain.
Sure, it might be comfortable, and yes, you’ve been brainwashed into believing that this is what you’re supposed to do, but no, it’s not what you deserve.
The other case, though, is the common one. You think your boss won’t let you, at the very same moment that your boss can’t understand why you won’t contribute more insight or enthusiasm. In most non-cog jobs, the boss’s biggest lament is that her people won’t step up and bring their authentic selves to work.
Rick Warren writes in The Purpose Driven Life:
We have all heard people say, “I took a job I hate in order to make a lot of money, so someday I can quit and do what I love to do.” That’s a big mistake. Don’t waste your life in a job that doesn’t express your heart. Remember, the greatest things in life are not things. Meaning is far more important than money.
Someone might say, “That’s hard to do in the current economic environment.” And yes, it can be.
But Warren is making a much wider point here that goes to the issue of how we think about jobs in general. We need to stay away from the mindset of “deferred purpose.” That is, don’t fall for the view that your job is merely or even primarily about earning money, such that you need to take whatever job you can get now (or whatever pays the most) with the aim of doing what you really want later. If you do this, chances are the “later” will never come. When you chose a job, you are often choosing not just a job, but a path.
Further, the “deferred purpose” approach only takes into account one dimension of ourselves — the economic. But, as the Bible teaches and management thinkers of today are also pointing out (such as Stephen Covey — see, for example, Principle-Centered Leadership or The 8th Habit), people are more than just economic beings. We are also social, talented, and spiritual. When choosing a job, you cannot isolate one dimension from the others. To take a job only for the money is to treat yourself as merely an economic being. We need to view our work not as just a way to earn a living, but as something which in itself ought to engage the social, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of human nature.
And, when you do this, you will be more effective in your job. (Interestingly, it is not only the case that people who work for more more than money are more effective; it is also the case that companies that exist for a purpose beyond making money are also more effective. See, for example, Jim Collins’ chapter “More than Profit” in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies).
Warren’s point here also relates to the way many people today think of retirement. The common notion of retirement is that you work for 40 years or so in a job (or series of jobs) that you may not like in order to build up a large retirement account so that when you retire from work altogether around 65 (or maybe earlier, if you can save effectively enough) you can then be completely free from work to do whatever you want. And, much of the time (but not all of the time), the things people “really want” to do focus on their comfort, taking it easy, and recreation.
Tim Ferris, in The 4-Hour Workweek, does a good job of exploding this notion of retirement. He basically says “why do what you don’t want to do for 40 years and put off what you really want to do to the end of your life?” But Ferris doesn’t take the concept far enough. He argues for taking frequent “mini-retirements” throughout your career. These retirements can be used for service, but that doesn’t come across as a primary emphasis.
What I would want to add to Ferris is a greater emphasis on utilizing these “mini-retirements” as a means of serving people — radically, creatively, and generously. There is some incredible and creative thought that can be given to this. Along with this, the extra time that can be freed up every day and every week simply by utilizing good productivity practices in our work is also an opportunity to give more time to serving others — and in creative ways, rather than with an “oh, I better put in my time helping out” mindset. (And this is amplified even further if we are in an environment that has a results-oriented philosophy of “work wherever, whenever, as long as the work gets done,” which sees performance as measured by what you produce and accomplish rather than by the amount of time you put in.)
But we need to go even beyond this. What Ferris seems to leave out is an affirmation of our work itself as an enjoyable, meaningful thing that is itself a means of doing good to others.
In other words, in addition to becoming more efficient and effective in our jobs so that we can have more free time to serve, we also need to see our jobs themselves as a means of serving. And, further, we need to take jobs that fire us up, that spark a passion in us, so that we are fully engaged and truly serving in the way that we are called to serve. We need to get away both from the mindset that says “I’ll do a job I hate for 40 years so I can retire with freedom and money,” and the mindset that, as Warren points out, says “I’ll do a job I hate for now so I can make a lot of money and then at some point do a job I love.” Avoid the deferred-purpose mindset. Find a job you love now, so that you can serve with maximum enthusiasm now – not in 20 years.
There’s one problem here, of course. In the current economic environment, it can be extra hard to find a job that you love. And I realize that some may indeed have to take a job mainly to pay the bills so they can get by for the short term. But, in doing that, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. And this means, first, avoid doing that if at all possible. Don’t give up too easily on finding a job you love, even in challenging economic times. And if you do find it, you will be more likely to keep it and advance (for enthusiasm drives effectiveness — it’s hard to get good at what you hate, but it’s easy to get good at what you love.). In fact, it could be said that the economy really needs more people to hold out for jobs they will love, because the result will be greater productivity throughout the entire economy as more and more people are in jobs where they love what they do.
Second, if you do have to take a job mainly to pay the bills for a season, you still can and should do that job diligently and from the heart. You can do that by doing it for the Lord, as Paul says in Ephesians 6:5-8. Be as effective as you can be, wherever you are (and, who knows, that may itself lead to something that really is a good fit in itself). More on this more specifically in another post, perhaps.
And, finally, if you do have to take a job you’d rather not in order to stay afloat, don’t let that season last too long. Before you know it, three or four or more years can go by, and you are off track. Be diligent. Do everything you can, as soon as you can, to get into a job you love. Obviously you won’t love everything about any job, and you will also have things to learn and grow into in any job and vocational trajectory. You won’t have instant success or instant effectiveness. But be vigilant and rigorous in finding a way, if you do have to “settle” for a time, to both make the most of the job you are presently in, and then get back into the role you really need to be in.
In this down economy, a lot of people are looking for jobs. Part of the interviewing process is asking good questions of the interviewer.
Marcus Buckingham lists three questions you should always ask, and I think he’s right:
- What are the three top priorities for the person in this position during the next ninety days?
- What are the key strengths you’re looking for in the person you select for this position? How do these strengths relate to what this position is responsible for?
- How would you describe the company culture? Would you give me some examples of the culture in action?
First, you ask about top priorities so you can know what’s expected, especially at the start, and so you can identify if the employer has sufficiently thought through the position. If they don’t know what to expect, you won’t know what to expect. (And one of the three priorities they list will hopefully be: learn the position well.)
Second, you ask about strengths because the purpose of any organization is to make strength productive and because you will be at your best when you are in a role that calls upon your strengths. If the organization does not have this mindset, it’s a yellow flag and it may not serve you to work there. So you want to know if they think in terms of maximizing strengths. Also, you want to know if the position matches your strengths and thus if you truly are a good fit.
Third, you ask about the culture because this is fundamental to knowing your “fit” and because you want to work for organizations with a healthy culture. One of the best answers a potential employer could give to this question is: “Trust.”
And one last thing: Present your true self. First, this is right. Second, the interview will go better. Third, it won’t serve you or the company if you get the job on the basis of an inaccurate understanding of your fit for the position.
If you are one of the many people out there looking for a job, the NonProfit Times has a good article on how to be effective in the second interview.
(What about the first interview? I guess they skipped that one. A good book for job-seekers that covers the first interview and a lot more is What Color Is Your Parachute? 2009: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers.)
Seth Godin has good advice for the 80% of college graduates who sought jobs but have not obtained one yet.
Marcus Buckingham has a good article on The Top Ten Things to Do if You Become Unemployed.
The cover story for the May 25 edition of Time is on The Future of Work. Here’s the summary:
Ten years ago, Facebook didn’t exist. Ten years before that, we didn’t have the Web. So who knows what jobs will be born a decade from now? Though unemployment is at a 25‑year high, work will eventually return. But it won’t look the same. No one is going to pay you just to show up. We will see a more flexible, more freelance, more collaborative and far less secure work world. It will be run by a generation with new values — and women will increasingly be at the controls. Here are 10 ways your job will change. In fact, it already has.
The ten changes they discuss are:
- The fall of finance
- Bringing ethics to management
- Employee benefits
- The change from a career ladder to a lattice, and the growing role of flexible working arrangements
- Postponing retirement
- The rise of green jobs
- The role of women
- The leadership transition to Generation X
- US manufacturing
- The last days of cubicle life (by Seth Godin)