My bright friend Reilly Flynn recently brought up a helpful quote for those struggling with job satisfaction. On 5 Sept 1957, Martin Luther King Jr said
[We] must head out to do our jobs so well that nobody could do them better. No matter what this job is, you must decide to do it well. Do it so well that the living, the dead, or the unborn (Yes) can’t do it better. (Yeah) If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Raphael painted pictures; sweep streets like Michelangelo carved marble; sweep streets like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: “Here lived a great street sweeper (All right), who swept his job well.”
Though I had heard the quote before, I was not aware of the context. MLK was encouraging blacks to do their jobs with distinction and excellence, knowing that they’d be competing with their white counterparts for the same job. The only way to level the unequal racial playing field was to do their jobs with such distinction that their superiors would have to recognize their ability and give them promotions and higher wages.
Last week Chris Horst and myself did a Q & A session at The Next Level Church in Englewood, Colorado on the topic of “How We Work.” I expected questions perhaps on how their Christian faith related to, say, their work in corporate America or even as a barista. Instead, what we mostly got was various levels of dissatisfaction. “What do you do to avoid thinking about how meaningless your job is? What do you do if your boss hates your guts?”
It’s not uncommon to be a “street sweeper” in today’s economy. But what do you do if you’re a street sweeper and you don’t feel entirely called to sweeping streets? I counseled people to not give up hope, and serve well in whatever job you may find yourself. MLK counseled his people to not only serve well, but to serve artistically, as a testimony to the nobility of African Americans living in the US.
This isn’t bad advice. As Reilly pointed out, Christians ought to be known for excellent work. Too often “evangelical” is equated with shoddy, half-baked work. But we’d be wise to remember we are made in the image of the Craftsman who does all things with artful excellence.
Discussion question: Do you see your current job as being a “street sweeper?” What would it look like to sweep streets as Raphael painted pictures or Beethoven composed music? Do you think it’s harder to do this in some jobs than others?