This supposedly old and supposedly Chinese proverb really struck a chord with me the other day. I thought I’d take a few minutes to share a couple real life examples and ideas.
For all the different kinds of jobs I had in my working life I have to say that most of them were doing things I took satisfaction in doing. The job may not have been something I really-wanted-to-do, but at least it was something about which I could say to myself “well, you have to do this, you might as well do your best and have fun with it.” Still… if I’m honest I have to admit that more than a couple of those jobs weren’t elegant, or particularly respected, and a few of them didn’t pay tuppence. Still, I was willing to say, “this is who I am” for now.
I have also had jobs into which I could not fit no matter how hard I tried. For weeks, and months, and years I chafed at the proverbial bit not knowing how to fit in, how to accomplish the task I had been set, how to make sense of the job or the reason I was doing it. I was miserable.
The good part about those couple jobs was that Peg & I used the occasions as a way of bringing us closer. I wasn’t about to go to a shrink to talk over my “problems” so we took the money that I would have spent on therapy and we used it for carefully planned evenings out — usually to dinner — but occasions on which we planned to be in the corner of a dining room, we knew we were going to pay more for the waiter’s tip than for the meal because we took their table for such a long time but an evening in which our entire purpose was to have uninterupted time to talk over what was going on in our (that is to say, “MY”) life. By consciously making a commitment in both time, money, and intimacy we grew closer rather than further apart because of the stress. My wife got to understand what was troubling me, and also “how” I thought and worked through problems. I came to appreciate her briefly spoken wisdom and how she complimented my verbose wanderings. For us, it was the best way to make good out of a bad situation.
But the bottom line is that out of a bad situation we figured a way out and into a better one. It took time, of course. We made mistakes — we’re only human. In the end we were happier with the final result, and a stronger partnership to boot!
I know not everyone is fortunate enough to do things they enjoy. Sometimes it’s enough to find parts of the job that you can enjoy that are enough to make up for the parts you don’t care about. For example, Peggy worked for the Refund Department of a hospital holding company. At one point she had ten clerks working alongside her and she had her hands full training, and overseeing, and many were the days that she longed to get back to the actual job of sending out refunds. Why? Because what she enjoyed was puzzle solving and the biggest part of figuring out a refund was — essentially — solving a puzzle. Some were simple — a $20 overpayment by a patient. Others weren’t quite so simple: a $250,000 overpayment by an insurance company. Still others were nightmares: accounts for hemopheliacs where the account never ended and there were additions and subtractions and adjustments and …. lots of little details to be worked out. Still — for her it was a way of finding satisfaction in her otherwise boring situation.
No one told her that was how to find satisfaction; she had to figure that out for herself. Most of the time no one is going to tell you how to make the most out of your job either. No matter what it might be it’s entirely up to you whether you’re going to have a job you like, or whether you are going to find a way to enjoy a job you’d rather not have. That’s entirely up to you.
But are you going to keep yourself under tension trying to be who you think you are? Or are you going to find a way to release that tension and find relaxtion by being who you really are?
I have shared in the past that for 25 years I was a bi-vocational pastor. Our church did not believe in a paid ministry so those who ministered to the flock had to provide their own income and minister in the time they could salvage from a work-a-day world. I was first voted into that position in my early 20’s. This was in a church where the average age of the congregation was probably 60 — we had a good number of folks in the congregation who were 70, 80, and even beyond. I remember after the selection process I was dumbstruck. What did I have that I could offer these folks who had been alive 2X or 3X as long as I had — they had more wisdom and knowledge than I could dream of… what was I to say, or do?
One of the oldest men in the congregation heard my private whimpering and he took me aside and we chatted for a while. He listened intently and when I was done sharing my fears and my feelings of self-importance he simply said, “The only thing we ask is that you share what you already know.” He took more words than that, but he stressed that I didn’t have to “be” anything. If I shared what I was thinking, what I had experienced, what God had lead me into, and out of, that was all they wanted.
To be honest I’d say it took me all of 25 years to really master that; in some ways I’m still learning how to just be myself. And I guess I haven’t gotten done “sharing” who I am, or what I know with others because I still talk about the Gospel when the time is right and I still talk about things I know and have experienced — even as I do in this blog. Old Ben Hollister’s advice has served me well and I will always appreciate the words of an old, retired window dresser. Yes…. that’s what he had been… a window dresser in a downtown Chicago department store… arranging the seasons’ wares to be sold in a pleasing way, setting up the Christmas windows, and the Easter windows and all the other holidays that the department store wanted to capitalize on. And he was a grand old gentleman.
I don’t think there is any easy way to discover “who you are.” I don’t think life is supposed to be that easy. I know folks in their 40’s and 50’s who are still trying to find their answer. That’s ok. This isn’t a race. There’s no set time for that purpose. We each have our own pathway to tread. And we aren’t all suited for our purpose at the outset.
I think, often, of the story of Moses who in his youth thought he had to save the Israelites from Egypt so he took action against one of Pharoah’s servants. The result was exile and for 40 years he wandered in the wilderness and became a pretty decent (by all accounts) shepherd. Only after “wasting” 40 years did he find his true vocation — leading Israel out of Egypt.
We live lives bound carefully by time. We make our obsession with time all the more pointed by setting appointments, and wearing watches, and regulating our living by clocks and calendars and stopwatches. But in the macro world our concept of time is quite puny. And many of the great inventions and events of human history weren’t performed or discovered by people in their teens, or twenties, or even in their thirties. For a lot of life it takes time and experience to get to the point of releasing our brain for what we’re really ‘meant’ to do in life. And yes, I do believe there there are purposes in our lives and that there is a plan and a pattern and reason and logic behind the universe. If you don’t — I feel sorry for you. It must be lonely wandering around in chaos. But I’m under no compulsion to live life YOUR way, and you aren’t under any obligation to live yours MY way. 🙂
However, I do think that when we “come round where we ought to be” — in the words of that great old shaker hymn, that the tension disappears and relaxation begins.