Jeff Haanen

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My Two Cents on Not Losing Our Hearts on the Job [Audio]

Since Working from the Inside Out has released, I’ve been honored to speak on numerous podcasts with hosts way smarter than me.

Here are a few of my favorite, where I share about everything from how to handle conflict with co-workers to spiritual rhythms that can infuse life into the work day.

Enjoy.

Faith in the Workplace with Jeff Haanen on Christianity Today_Being Human Podcast with Steve Cuss

Live Faith First Podcast with Eliot Sands_Work Can Be a Good Thing with Jeff Haanen

Unhurried Living: 289: Working from the Inside Out (Alan w/ Jeff Haanen) on Apple Podcasts

E 354 How Inner Work Transforms Your Outer World with Saddleback Church on YouTube

A Brief Guide to Inner Work that Transforms Our Outer World with Apollos Watered on YouTube

Episode 274 – Working from the Inside Out with Jeff Haanen with Faith Driven Entrepreneur

Working from the Inside Out with Eric Most and Laurie Bossert on Generosity Now

God’s Story Podcast – Working from the Inside Out with Jeff Haanen

Episode 58 Manly with Andy – Working from the Inside Out with Jeff Haanen

Denver Institute for Faith & Work _ Working from the Inside Out featuring Jeff Haanen

Here’s the Full Audiobook on Audible: Working from the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World

Free Study Guide: Study Guide_Working from the Inside Out

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Work

Resetting Your Career in Midlife

“Midway upon the journey of our life,” writes Dante in the first lines of his Inferno, “I had found myself in the dark wilderness, for I had wandered from the straight and true.”

I wonder if Dante was making a comment on the crafty nature of sin, creeping up from behind like a silent fog when we least expect it…or just the bewildering challenges of being middle-aged.

Several weeks ago, I called Dan, one of my friends, who’s nearly forty. “How are you?” I asked. “Well, nothing new,” he said with sigh. “Same job. Same family. Same house.”

He went on to explain that nothing was wrong, per say, other than feeling the reality set in that he was no longer in his twenties, filled with notions of changing the world. He wasn’t depressed, but aspiration had slowly given way to some combination of responsibility and reality, seeing in one hand a mortgage statement and in the other the scars of a thousand tiny disappointments after almost two decades on the job.    

“Midlife, especially for middle-class American men,” wrote Robert Bellah, American sociologist and author of Habits of the Heart, “often marks the end of a dream of a utilitarian self established by ‘becoming one’s own man’ and then ‘settling down’ to progress in a career.” Bellah says that around midlife, many realize that they’ll never be “number one” — senior partner, Nobel laureate, principal, CEO. As these dreams die, finding one’s identity in work dissipates and career trajectories flatten. “For many in middle age, the world of work then dims, and by extension so does the public world at large.”

For years in my own work at DIFW we have seen a trend: young professionals in their twenties and thirties come to our events, press into big social issues, and become Fellows, but participation in our programming drops off in one’s forties and fifties. What’s happening here?

Both my friend Dan and Robert Bellah explain what’s happening. First, in middle age, we must reckon with the crushing loss of professional dreams. You have a job, but the idea that you were going to “change the world” is shown for what it is: a postmodern mirage, built around the slippery, individualistic notion we had believed since we were teenagers: “you can be whatever you want to be.” A cloud of grief, loss, and disillusionment fills our horizon — one we’re quick to push back with entertainment, busyness, or consumerism.

The second reason: golden handcuffs. We reach the midpoint of our careers and we find we’re better paid now than we were in our twenties, but our expenses have grown as well. Mortgage payments, grocery bills, and kid’s activity fees all tamper down our desire to risk building something new, step out on a limb at work, or start a new career. Better to play it safe, even if we feel something inside of us crumbling.

Yet not all submit to the resignation of our hopes in midlife.

I’ve observed that some take an alternative path in midlife that acknowledges our limitations, pursues interior freedom, and embraces failure as the only pathway to growth.

Acknowledge Our Limitations

Gordon Smith, author of Courage and Calling, writes, “To embrace our vocations in midlife means that we accept two distinct but inseparable realities. First, we accept with grace our limitations and move as quickly as we can beyond illusion about who we are. Second, it means, positively, that we accept responsibility for our gifts, and acknowledge with grace what we can do.”

Bishop Ken Untener makes a similar point, very applicable to life at midcareer, “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.”

Our individualistic society is built around “your success.” And most weeks I see people who mistakenly believe that they can find their life’s purpose in their job. When this illusion dies, they often become disengaged — both from their job and the broader culture. And for those who do make it to the top, often they’ve done so by making work their religion.

But some take a humbler path. They take stock of what they are, and what they’re not. They look squarely at their talents and their limitations. They realize that won’t change culture. But they also realize that they can change the world right around them — co-workers, community, church, and family.

And perhaps even more importantly, they become ok with knowing people who are richer, smarter, better looking, and more talented. Seeking approval for performance is calmed by the steady, lasting approval of God.  

Pursue Interior Freedom

When New York Times columnist David Brooks set out to explore his own road to character growth, he realized there are two sets of virtues: résumé virtues and eulogy virtues. Résumé virtues are those you bring to the marketplace and post on LinkedIn — degrees, job accomplishments, accolades. Eulogy virtues are virtues people will talk about at your funeral — humility, kindness, courage.

Our careers tend to compensate and reward us for résumé virtues, but at some point, we realize these goals are thin, and we’ll have to decide whether we’ll make the journey into the interior world.

Rev. Jacques Philippe, author of Interior Freedom,says that if we’re continually looking to the external world for our approval, we’ll never be happy because our circumstances are constantly changing. However, he says we can cultivate deep interior freedom by practicing the virtues of faith, hope and love and by connecting deeply to the source of inner freedom — God himself — which no external power can take away.

Philippe and Brooks both are calling us to making a momentous shift in our lives: from exterior success to interior depth.

In this way of thinking, work becomes not just a way to achieve, but the primary context for our spiritual formation and interior growth. When we’re passed over for a promotion, slighted by a prospective client, or enduring a toxic workplace culture, the question becomes not one of escape to a better job, but instead: who am I becoming?

When the journey toward success in midlife lost its luster, a few decided to take a new, and much more exciting journey, toward whole-heartedness and deep emotional and spiritual health.

Embrace Failure as the Only Pathway to Growth

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of determination.” Commenting on this paradox, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, “It is not their victories that make people leaders; it is the way they cope with their defeats — their ability to learn, to recover, and to grow.”

Most people move into middle age with a growing set of disappoints and failures that lead to resignation. “I’ll never get the job.” “I’ll never make a big impact. That was just the naivety of my twenties.”

Yet there are a few who experience the same set of consistent failures and they learn from them. They adopt a growth mindset. They don’t let their ego get in the way and they instead welcome feedback from family, friends, and co-workers. In the process, they ask questions like: What did I learn from that situation? How did I react? And what does this mean for me and for those around me?

The path to leadership is narrow because the majority want to blame others for their problems. The few decide to take ownership over what they can and let the harsh lessons of life refine them like a fire.

Dante had to make the journey first into the inferno before he made his way to purgatory and then ultimately to paradise.

Perhaps the only way out of the dark wilderness of midlife is first to go further in.

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BusinessEconomyTheologyWork

The Quiet Unraveling of Work in America

 

On July 16-19, I will be presenting a brief paper at the Christian Economic Forum in San Francisco entitled, “The Quiet Unraveling of Work in America: Three Economic Challenges and What Christian Leaders Can Do.” The CEF Leadership collated the conference papers into a book, and kindly provided a PDF of my paper for distribution. The content of the paper is below, and the PDF can be accessed by clicking the link above.

The Quiet Unraveling of Work in America

Three Economic Challenges and What Christian Leaders Can Do

On August 1, 2007, the I35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis looked like any other bridge in America. Commuters stuck in rush hour were waiting impatiently, talking on their phones, and assuming they would get safely to their destinations. Yet at 6:05 p.m., a strange noise was heard underneath the bridge. Suddenly it collapsed, sending 111 vehicles and 18 construction workers plummeting 115 feet into the river. In total, 13 people were killed and 145 injured in an unexpected tragedy.

In the same way, on the surface the American economy looks healthy. The Dow Jones is now over 20,000, unemployment rates are low, and economic growth is strong. But there are signs that the support system under the bridge of the American economy is beginning to wobble.

There are three worrisome signs that our economic support structure–the American workforce–is beginning to unravel:

  • Prime age men are exiting the workforce at historically unprecedented rates.
  • The “precarious” economy has made work for millions more part-time, less stable, and less connected to a coherent career-path.
  • Work is now defined by a narrative of individual achievement rather than service, which puts stress on businesses, levels of public engagement, and our pension system.

This essay briefly explores each of these three challenges to work in America, in addition to what Christian leaders might do to heal these fissures in American life.

Men Without Work

There is a silent army of able-bodied men in America who have dropped out of the workforce. Nicholas Eberstadt’s new book, Men Without Work, shows that from 1948-2015 the percentage of prime age men in the workforce dropped from 85.8% to 68.2%, a rate lower than it was in the 1930s during the Great Depression.[i] Today there are 10 million men ages 25-54 who are either unemployed or have stopped looking for work altogether.[ii]

Perhaps more overwhelming is the fact that these men tend to have no college degree, no wife or children, and live in economically depressed parts of the United States such as Appalachia, the Rust Belt, or the Deep South. Books like Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America from 1960-2010 show that the white working class is no longer the virtuous “blue collar America” of political lore. Murray notes that less than a third of children grow up in households with both biological parents, men claim disability benefits at alarming rates, and church-going rates have plummeted.[iii]

J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family & Culture in Crisis has pulled back the veil on what it’s like to live in white working class America. Raised by his Mamaw (grandmother), Vance grew up with a host of father figures, a drug addicted mother, and in a culture of hillbilly honor, often retaliating at every slight, especially toward outsiders.

Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, notes that among America’s white working class–many of whom were the key swing voters for Donald Trump–suffering and resentment is rampant. Among this group, cirrhosis of the liver is up 50%, suicide has increased 78%, and drug and alcohol poisonings have skyrocketed 323% since 1999.[iv]

“There is indeed a gap in this country, and it has now led to a political revolution, a significant realignment in American politics,” Brooks writes. “But the relevant gap wasn’t income.” For blue collar America that has seen manufacturing jobs go overseas and real wages decline, the relevant gap was a loss of dignity.

The Splintered Career

Another factor impacting the American economy is that the age of working for a single employer for a career is long gone.

Today, we live in the “gig” economy. In 2015, freelancers in the US labor force numbered an estimated 54 million, or as much as one third of the workforce.[v] Researchers have dubbed this the “precarious” economy as they describe the massive shift toward temporary, part-time, or contract work. Today, the average job tenure is less than 4 years (and closer to 18 months for millennials) and a young worker can expect to have 11-12 careers over a lifetime.[vi]

Both low-income and middle class workers have entered new territory. The challenge for the poor is trying to cobble together a variety of part-time jobs to support their families, most of which pay no benefits. Sociologist Allison J. Pugh found that many low-income families struggle to stay afloat financially as they try to navigate constantly changing social ties, relationships, and employers.[vii]

For the middle class, the challenge is to “reinvent yourself” constantly, learning new technologies and skills throughout a lifetime. A college degree 20 years ago is no longer enough. The job you prepared for at university may no longer exist today. Technology is transforming the professions as much as it is the trades.

The challenge for both groups is to find a sense of vocational identity and social location in a community amidst constantly changing careers. “What do you do?” is now a hard question to answer at a dinner party. Even harder is trying to figure out what you might do for a paycheck tomorrow.

The “Big Me” Culture

A final worrisome sign of trouble in American workforce is that we now live in a work culture that prizes individual achievement and personal gain over sacrificial service.

“We have seen a shift,” says The New York Times columnist David Brooks, “from a culture of humility to what you might call the Big Me.”[viii] In his book, The Road to Character, Brooks explains that since WWII America has shifted from a culture that was realistic about sin and personal limitation to one of self-centeredness, personal achievement, and “belief in yourself.”

As the positive psychology movement advanced in post-war America, the doctrine of sin was replaced with a doctrine of self-esteem. Today, fueled by social media, we tend to see work as the chance to make a mega impact or to build our LinkedIn profiles. Humility has become a lost virtue.

This view of work tends to have three economic consequences.

First, sustainable businesses (and economies) are built on trust and the ability to serve the long-term needs of their customers. Business practices fueled by short-term thinking and personal gain can damage entire economies, as we saw in the Great Recession of 2007-2008.

Second, healthy economies need a robust civil society to provide for core social needs apart from government aid. In The Great Degeneration, historian Niall Ferguson shows that numbers of volunteers have plummeted in the past generation, putting more pressure on governments to pay for socially beneficial programs.[ix]

Third, our aging American population is fast becoming an enormous economic liability. As Baby Boomers retire yet live longer–often for 20-30 years drawing on pension benefits–the economic stress on state and federally funded pension plans is fast reaching a tipping point.[x]

In each of these circumstances, when work is about personal benefit rather than contribution to the community, we see increasing stress put on the wobbly beams of our economic bridge.

Three Tasks for Christian Leaders

Considering these three trends–men without work, the splintered career, and the culture of the Big Me–what can Christian leaders do? I believe three things will help rebuild the structures of our shaky economic bridge.

  1. Recovery of Dignity (and the Doctrine of the Image of God) – The Bible teaches that all people are made in God’s image and have inherent dignity (Gen. 1:27-28). Moreover, meaningful work is a gift of God and a way we express our God-given value (Gen. 2:15; 1Pet. 2:10). In a culture of “men without work,” we must not only praise the work of men but also work to provide quality jobs that allow them to provide for their communities. This needs to be the basis for new educational and workforce development programs across the US.
  2. Recovery of Mutual Responsibility (and the Doctrine of the Church) – We need each other. Management and employees, customers and suppliers, products and producers: we depend on one another for our housing, our food, our laws, and our well-being. Calvinist reformers saw social organization in terms of the Body of Christ, where members depended on one another. Christian leaders must resist seeing employees as mere “human resources,” but seek ways to provide good jobs with meaningful work to men and women across industries. Projects like Zeynep Ton’s The Good Jobs Strategy show that profit and compassion (business success and investing in employees) are not contradictory but can be complementary.[xi]
  3. Recovery of the Doctrine of Vocation – “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give himself as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Work is about service, not our own career success or quarterly shareholder reports. Just after WWII, theologian Elton Trueblood said, “A Church which seeks to lift our sagging civilization will preach the principle of vocation in season and out of season. The message is that the world is one, secular and sacred, and that the chief way to serve the Lord is in our daily work.”[xii] Vocation is a summons to service–of God and neighbor. Here is the elixir to our economic woes, and the quiet strength still present in the American people.

 Photo credit: Union Workers.

 

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[i] Nicholas Eberstadt, Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2016).

[ii] Derek Thompson, “The Missing Men,” The Atlantic, June 27, 2016, accessed at: http://theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/06/the-missing-men/488858/

[iii] Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America from 1960-2010 (New York: Crown, 2012).

[iv] Arthur Brooks, “How Donald Trump Filled the Dignity Deficit,” The Wall Street Journal, November 9, 2016, accessed at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-donald-trump-filled-the-dignity-deficit-1478734436

[v] Louis Hyman, “The Rise of the Precarious Economy,” The Hedgehog Review, 18, no. 1, (Spring 2016):18-32.

[vi] Josh Bersin, “The Future of Work: It’s Already Here – and Not As Scary As You Think,” Forbes, September 21, 2016, accessed at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2016/09/21/the-future-of-work-its-already-here-and-not-as-scary-as-you-think/print

[vii] Allison J. Pugh, The Tumbleweed Society: Working and Caring in an Age of Insecurity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[viii] David Brooks, The Road to Character (New York: Random House, 2015).

[ix] Niall Ferguson, The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die (New York: Penguin, 2013).

[x] Tyler Durden, “’This is Going To Be A National Crisis,’ – One of the Largest US Pension Funds Set to Cut Retiree Benefits,” April 20, 2016, accessed at: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-04-20/going-be-national-crisis-one-largest-us-pension-funds-set-cut-retiree-benefits

[xi] Zeynep Ton, The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits, (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2014).

[xii] Elton Trueblood, The Common Ventures of Life: Marriage, Birth, Work, Death (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949).

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Faith and Work Movement

Work, Profession, Job, Vocation, Occupation, Career or Calling?: Getting Clear on Language About Work

 

“I think I’m gonna quit. I just don’t feel called to this anymore.”

“You don’t just have a job, you have a vocation!” Really? It feels more like I need a vacation.  

“Some people have a calling,” my father said to me. “But most of us just have a job.”

“Profession? Sounds like what rich people do. ‘Round here, we just work.”

This is just plain confusing. Work, profession, job, vocation, occupation, career and calling. What exactly are we talking about here?

Does vocation and work mean the same thing? When is a job a career, or just a job? Am I working if I’m not getting paid? Do I really have to be called to every task I do at work? Or is it ok to be called to something completely different than my 9-5? Why does it feel like the hardest work I do is at home, and I go to work to rest?

The language we use around work – especially among Christians – can be mystifying. And a mist in the pulpit usually means a fog in the pew. Defining terms would help. But Webster can’t tell us how we use these terms in relation to one other.

In this short video (6:16) I take a stab at trying to get clear on both how we actually use these terms, and how we ought to use language around the idea of work based on Christian revelation.

My friend is fond of saying, “Change the language, you change the culture.” That’s hopeful. Maybe we can at least get a little less confused.

Work, Profession, Job, Vocation, Occupation, Career or Calling? – Getting Clear on Language About Work from Denver Institute on Vimeo.

(The text below is a transcript of the video above.)

Let’s start with the basics: vocation and calling. These two words mean the same thing. Calling comes from a Greek word, kaleo, and vocation comes from a Latin root vox, meaning voice. Each was intended by Protestant Reformers to point to an entire life lived in response to the voice, or call, of God.

Clear enough.  But there are two confusing parts: one secular, one religious. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, when American culture began to secularize, vocation became divorced from reference to God, and vocation become synonymous with work, particularly manual labor and the rise of “vocational education.” So for most people today, vocation and work mean the same thing. But this isn’t necessarily true for Christians, who see these ideas as overlapping, but distinct.

The second confusion: inside of Christianity, generally there are two meanings behind ideas of vocation or calling. The first order usage is the “call” to love God and love your neighbor. This is the highest calling and is common to all people in all places. The second is specific: God’s call to specific people to do specific tasks at specific times. This is generally where we use the word in relation to work, though not exclusively.

Clear as mud. But let’s at least agree, that vocation and calling is the biggest category, and encompasses the entire life of the Christian, whether that be career, family, hobbies, or friends. Each of these activities belong to God, and should be done for him and with him.

So, then, what is a career? For most, it’s your life work, or the aggregate of all or your jobs or occupations. This is why I chose it as an umbrella category.

However, people see their careers very differently. Some see their life’s work as series of jobs or occupations (which, I think are the same thing). Both jobs and occupations are a set of tasks I do for money.

Others, see their career as a profession. This word has a rich heritage. A profession can be seen as a community of people who profess and uphold a set of moral standards that hold together their industry. Generally, we think about doctors, lawyers, or business professionals here. But the point of this word is about disinterested service to others, not just personal gain.

Fair enough. In today’s economy, where people change jobs on average every four years, it may be tough to describe what your career is. But most do their work as either an occupation or job, or a profession.

Great. Then what on earth does the word work mean? Well, that depends on who’s asking! I think there are three basic options:

  1. Work = Job = $. The question “Where do you work?” means for most “What is your job?” Who pays your bills? This is the probably most common view.
  2. Work as defined by Christian faith. Two examples are definitions from Dorothy Sayers and John Stott.

Dorothy Sayers says, “[Work] should be the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.”

Now, John Stott says this: “Work is the expenditure of energy (manual or mental or both) in the service of others, which brings fulfillment to the worker, benefit to the community, and glory to God.”

What’s interesting about both of these definitions of how influenced they are by the Protestant vision of vocation or calling.  Work may be what you get paid for. But the emphasis is on service of others, fulfilling our role as co-creators, and giving the credit to God. This is what I call “the heavenly view of work.”

  1. Work = Non-rest, Any task. Here, work is basically everything you’re doing, or any task you define as work, as long as you’re not sleeping. (Even watching TV could be work if your job is a TV critic.)

I think this definition is too broad, and makes life about work, rather than about God. Work is not just a job, but neither is it everything! When Joseph Pieper says that Leisure is the Basis of Culture (he’s wrong of course – work is!), he’s responding to this totalizing view of work, which was nearly salvific in Marxism. But that’s beside the point here…

So, of course, I opt for definition #2, which means work could be paid or not paid. The vocation-infused definition of work is where we ought to aim.

The challenge is, of course, The Fall. For most people, work sometimes seems divine, but more often is toil. Work is hammering away in the factor or at the task list, and just something I need to do for money. Occasionally it’s a profession, but in an age “beyond good and evil,” agreeing on the moral codes guiding, say, law or health care, can be tricky business – and is often hotly contested.

So, work is caught between Genesis 1 and Genesis 3, with echoes of heaven but often laced with the pain of hell. Sometimes job, sometimes calling, always work. The key is to draw even the “jobs”, with all of their pain, into a sense of vocation. The magic isn’t in an ideal career, job or profession – the magic is in our motivation.

So, work, profession, job, vocation, occupation, career or calling? Well, that depends if it’s raining, and which umbrella you choose to pull out for the day.

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Work

Guest Column for the Boulder Daily Camera: “Moving west for meaningful work”

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Boulder Daily Camera on January 27, 2016. 

Erik Nelson, a former VP with a large financial service company, is on the hunt for meaningful work.

He recently moved from Texas to Colorado to find a job in the nonprofit sector, hoping to discover a career with more than monetary benefits.

But after a few months, his search became a maze. He recently asked me, “Honestly, can work be anything other than mundane, routine,  and pressure packed?” In other words, isn’t there more to life that working a 9-5—and then escaping to the mountains for the weekend?

Like the 19th century gold rush, Erik is one of thousands of people are flocking to Colorado. As the economic center of the United States shiftswestward, cities like Boulder are brimming with new faces – especially millenials. We seem to be following Henry David Thoreau’s prophetic words, “Eastward I go only by force, but westward I go free. This is the prevailing tendency of my countrymen.”

But why come to a city like Boulder? Why did Colorado gain over 100,000 residents last year? Is it our snow-kissed slopes? Our booming craft brewing industry? Dreams of trading the congestion of New York for a leisurely bike ride to work in the Colorado sunshine?

Certainly those perks play a role. But I have a thesis: what we’re really longing for is meaningful work. And for most, that search is riddled with anxiety. 

In generations past, many took jobs merely as a means to a paycheck. Sign on with a large company, stay for 30 years, and find fulfillment on the weekend. But the new norm is to find a job with a social mission.

For example, JJ Oslund of Boulder left his job in human resources at Target to join the Global Accelerator Network, a network of short-term schools for entrepreneurs, because “I was in a system where I couldn’t effect change. I knew I wanted my work to make an impact.”

The American historian and broadcaster Studs Turkel described this longing well,“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday-through-Friday sort of dying.”

If work is just a dollars-for-hours swap, then we’re spending nearly 100,000 hours of our lives like Sisyphus — pushing a rock up hill only to see it roll down again. It’s no wonder 75 percent of young adults want to live a more meaningful life.

The trouble is, most aren’t finding what they’re looking for. The average job tenure for millennials is a staggeringly short 16 months. For the rest of the market, it’s only 4.6 years. The search for meaning in work is elusive; as soon as one opportunity knocks, thoughts creep in of a better job around the corner.

Tech entrepreneurs often have the toughest time finding satisfaction in their work. A recent survey by TINYpulse, a specialist in monitoring employee satisfaction, found only 19% of tech employees say they are happy in their jobs, and only 17% feel valued in their work.

Tensions with work are often hardest for women with children. Jesse Minassian, a mother of two and writer living in Aurora, says, “I love what I do. Yet working from home while homeschooling my kids makes it hard. Between working, housekeeping, mothering, teaching and being a wife, I never feel a sense of being ‘finished’ with my responsibilities.”

At Denver Institute for Faith & Work, these are the kinds of tensions we explore. Tensions between faith and work, aimlessness and purpose, family and career, what is and what should be.

Denver founder and city builder John Evans (1814-1897), whose efforts to connect the Denver Pacific railway to Cheyenne saved the metro area from obscurity, once said, “It is the imperative of the Almighty that we shall do all the good we can.” For Evans, his work in medicine, business and higher education, was driven by a deeper meaning than mere personal success.

Evans didn’t just have a career. He had a vocation. A person choosing a career balances financial and psychological benefits with professional advancement. But someone with a vocation obeys a summons, even if it leads to obscurity or suffering. The good of others trumps personal comfort.

Tensions in our work will remain. But hope for the masses moving West for meaningful work won’t be found in self-actualization but instead in the freedom of self-forgetfulness.

Jeff Haanen is the Executive Director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work, a Colorado based educational nonprofit, and co-founder of the 5280 Fellowship

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Work

What we’ve forgotten about vocation

 

There is a scene in J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Fellowship of the Ring where Frodo Baggins meets Lady Galadriel, an elf queen. She leads him to look in small bowl of water, called the mirror of Galadriel, that tells the future. After seeing the demise of the Shire in the mirror, the Lady says about his great task of destroying the Ring, “For if you fail, then we are laid bare to the enemy…For the fate of Lothlórien you are not answerable, but only for doing your own task.” The movie version of this scene adds her saying, “Frodo, if you do not do this, it will not happen.”

Frodo was called. He had an appointed task that was heavy with importance, and if he, the Ring Bearer, did not do it, it would never happen.

The idea that people are called by God to do a task is deeply biblical. Some examples:

  • Moses was called by God to bring the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery (Ex. 3:7-10)
  • David was pulled from tending sheep and anointed king of Israel by God’s special choosing (1 Samuel 16:8-30)
  • Jeremiah, even though only a boy, was called to be a prophet to the nations (Jer. 1:4-10)
  • Isaiah, despite being a “man of unclean lips,” was sent to be a stern rebuke to Israel’s corrupt kings (Is. 6)
  • Jesus called his first disciples to leave their fishing nets and instead “fish for people” (Lk. 5:10)
  • Paul was called to “proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15)

Even though the concept of a divine calling is so pervasive in Scripture, today we have largely lost some of its key tenets. I think we’ve lost at least three things.

(1) We’ve lost the sense of having a singular life task that is given to us, and us alone. When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was sitting in a Nazi prison in WWII, he worked tirelessly on what he believed to be his great life’s work: his book Ethics. This task kept him exercising, eating, and working when many other prisoners lost all hope. He felt his death was coming soon, but continued to study and write, feeling deeply that he had to complete this work before his days were done. While in prison, he wrote to his friend Eberhard that this idea of being called to a life’s work had been all but lost in his day. He would not be among those who lost such an expansive perspective on their life’s work.

(2) We’ve lost the role of weaknesses in fulfilling our calling. A pastor, who I greatly admire, recently advised his congregants on how to find their calling. He gave a three-fold test for discerning a calling: affinity, ability and opportunity. That is, (1) Do you want to do it?, (2) Are you good at it, and (3) Do you have the opportunity? This is generally good advice – if you’re missing any of these, you’re not likely to be happy in your career.

Yet I believe he’s missing the role of weakness. Frodo was the least likely person to carry the Ring to Mordor, but he was ultimately selected. Bonhoeffer was in a freezing, bare Nazi prison, yet his writings endure to this day – including his unfinished Ethics. David was the youngest son, not the oldest, Moses stuttered (and was an ex-con), and Paul was a Christian-killer before conversion. Yet each was chosen by God. This is how God works. He chooses “the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27). Calling is just as often aligned with weaknesses submitted to God than finding your strengths.

(3) We’ve forgotten that most careers aren’t vocations. On the one hand, we often confuse our calling with being successful in our careers. Leah Labresco has written a great article in First Things that blasts the destruction of intimacy and relationship in a culture that prizes success at any cost. She writes:

“Most careers aren’t vocations, so we need space outside them to grow and love. It’s possible to make a short-term decision to put life and relationships on hold, in order to make a high-intensity commitment to a cause (this is the model for the oft-touted national service draft), but it’s unhealthy to let these crisis-mode jobs give shape to your life.”

Our vocation may be to stay at home for a season, or to take a demotion for more meaningful work. To say you’re “called” to do something is not the same as saying “I will succeed at any cost. A calling is always from God, who may send us into a desert for 40 years before sending us to Pharaoh (or, like the desert fathers, he may just keep us there).

Yet, on the other hand, some completely lose touch of their vocation because of the pressures and challenges of a career. It’s one thing to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed coming out of college, ready to conquer the world. It’s another to have experienced years of having your career not turn out as you thought, and being weighed down with a mortgage – and still to continually live out a calling.  This often takes courage – and a deep faith that this is indeed where God has called you (despite the world telling you otherwise).

We need to see our “work” as larger than our careers ( and our success in them) and yet still a central way in which we live out a commitment to Christ.

Paul writes, “For you are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which were prepared in advance for you to do, (Eph. 2:10). God has prepared tasks for all Christians to do. We are saved for a purpose. Like Frodo, we all have a Ring to bear – and a mission to fulfill.

Discussion question: What is your calling?

(Photo: “Sortie,” Keoki Seo)

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