I’m one of those crazy weirdos who actually likes work.
Well … let me rephrase that: Sometimes I hate work, but in general, work comes naturally to me. I understand it. Relationships are messy, and I’m not super good at leisure time. But with work, there are clear expectations.
Come at this time. Complete this project. Follow up with that person. Return that email. Go to that meeting. Go home for dinner, get some sleep then do the same thing again the next day.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
If you’re in a job that fits your skills, it’s relatively easy to know if you’re winning. You may not necessarily get promoted or praised, but if you consistently do what you’re asked to do, you get a paycheck. You have a fair amount of control over your success. It’s transactional; do this, and you get that. That’s how work works.
That’s what I like about work, but it leads me to what I don’t like about work.
Purpose is messy
When you care, work is hard. Sometimes I care about my work and my career a little too much. I can be content with the transactional part of work for a while, but eventually I desire something more.
I think all of us do. We want significance, and we want to know we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves. Work gets exciting and fun when it moves beyond that transactional relationship. Paychecks are great, but what most of us look for in our careers is a sense of purpose.
And purpose is messy. When you’re passionate, work gets more complicated. The actual work may not change, but you begin to feel the ups and the downs a little more. The ups are great, but the downs sting.
I’ve been in my job almost six years. I work at a great local church where I get to do exactly what I studied in school — graphic design, communications and media. I enjoy my day-to-day tasks, and I even have a seat at the table in some of our leadership meetings. There are a lot of ups, and I truly enjoy the work I get paid to do.
But there are downs. For me, the biggest sting comes when my eyes and my heart get a little too big. Sometimes in those leadership meetings, we’ll discuss and consider new projects or ministry areas that our church could pursue. Some of those ideas have really excited me. We’ve almost pulled the trigger on a number of new projects where I was all in and ready. In my mind, I could imagine our team and our community a few years down the road, and the potential of our impact and our progress excited me. I was sure this was what we were supposed to do, and I couldn’t wait to get started.
Except we didn’t (or at least haven’t yet). We have wise leaders on our staff, and they’ve pumped the brakes a few times to make sure we’re ready for some of these new things we’ve considered. Even if I thought we were ready, they saw a bigger picture and wisely brought in the reins.
A few times now I’ve had to intentionally press pause on my passion — and that’s hard. Sometimes things that seem simple to us are actually very complicated, and sometimes the “no brainer” next step just isn’t possible for reasons outside our control.
Let go of control
And that is the hardest part of work for me. Sometimes we don’t get the results we hope for, and sometimes we don’t even get to pursue the ideas that most excite us. Sometimes the realities of life force us to freeze and shut down our dreams. That’s a hard pill to swallow — especially when you have a deep passion for your work.
In those moments, it’s hard to be content with the transactional model of work because simply putting in your time lacks the spark and the excitement of seeing your passion come to life. But it reminds us that we are not in control.
In fact, we were never in control in the first place. It’s tempting to give ourselves too much credit or too much blame for how things turn out. God never intended for us to carry that kind of weight. At the end of the day, He has plans for your company and he has plans for you, and His measure of success is better than ours.
Sometimes your job is — get this — to do your job. If you’re the 30-year-old graphic designer on a large and experienced church staff, it’s not your job to set the tone for the future of the church. That is not the transaction I was hired to accomplish. My job is to make websites and videos and graphics and social media marketing campaigns. And I like doing those things! Those transactions actually bring me joy, and when I have the right perspective, I’m reminded of the blessing it is to have a good job I enjoy.
Our purpose in life is much bigger than our legacy in the office. I think we often misplace our purpose. Purpose is so much bigger than a resume. If my big passion projects never become a reality, that’s OK. In the workplace and in our lives, our job is to show up every day and work at it with all our hearts, as if we’re working for the Lord and not men (Colossians 3:23).
So here’s my challenge to you and to myself: Do your job well. Do the absolute best you can. Set big goals and dream big dreams and do all those inspirational cat poster things. And then, when you’ve done all you can do, let go.
Leave the pressure to succeed and the burden of the results to the One who put you in your job in the first place. Remember your purpose is so much more than your to-do list. Follow the passions God has put inside of you, but don’t put too much stock in the results. Give yourself a break, power through the projects in front of you today — with joy — and I think you (and I) will turn out just fine.
Copyright 2019 Matt Ehresman. All rights reserved.