Thursday, August 16, 2007

Vocational Redemption

What is the most important result of your work? At the end of the day, week, month or year, if you have accomplished X then you will know that all of the time and effort has been worth the sacrifice. Is it a positive number at the bottom of the profit and loss statement? Is that the most important thing? Is it the lives that have been improved by your product, service, church or ministry? Is it the building of a building or the care of the poor? What is the most important result of your work?

You don’t know do you? Most of us don’t. We are seldom given clear direction and information about what we should consider vital and essential to our daily tasks. That is highly frustrating, especially for those of us Type A personalities that like clear objectives and goals. We spend nearly 2,000 hours a year (more for us work-a-holics) at our vocation without clear institutional priorities. Our supervisors try to give us “pep talks” and motivate us but their objectives are ambiguous. Yes profit is important, but so is quality and service. Of course we want you to make other’s lives better and serve the poor, but only if a profit can be generated in the process. Make disciples and make money, yeah, that’s your objective. We have carefully crafted mission statements, purpose statements, and value statements. We then have statements about our statements. Definitions about the words in our statements, reformatted vision statements. Most of these statements in placed carefully on the cover of a three ring binder or hanging on the wall over the entrance or water fountain and promptly forgotten. Then we go back to work and try to please everyone, customers, supervisors, CEOs and board members, never quite sure who is the most important master because it changes by the day.

Didn’t Jesus say something about not being able to serve two masters? Don’t I recall something about you will love the one and hate the other? He didn’t define which was the “right one” and which was the “wrong one,” just that one will resonate with your heart song and the other will annoy you and cause you heartburn.

So what is the answer? If we aren’t going to get a divine pronouncement from above about what is vital and essential, what do we do? There are a few things we can do to help us keep the main thing, the main thing.

Focus on your passionate strengths: Marcus Buckingham does a great job teaching people to play to their strengths. He advises us that we should spend 50-80% of our day doing things that “strengthen us.” We should do things that we love, that resonate with our heart song, that are the reason you took the job in the first place. Now very few people can spend all of their time playing to their strengths, as he says, that’s why they call it work. But if we can spend some significant time each day doing things, activities, tasks and building relationships that we enjoy and are passionate about, it makes the other stuff bearable.

Define what is important to you: This is key. If nothing you do during your daily existence really seems important and vital to you, then you either need to reformat your vocation or change it. You can starve your soul to death by simply doing things that drain it and empty it day after day. If it doesn’t matter then why is it being done? The days I feel best when I return home are the days when I feel like I have accomplished something important. It might just be one thing, one phone call, one contact, one task, but that one thing was important to me and it puts the rest of the day in perspective. On the contrary, on the days when I go home without feeling like anything I did mattered, like I just went through the motions and filled the seat behind my desk, then I feel worthless.

Plan your day: You need to know your rhythms. Are you a morning person? Then do what you love at the time you are best, save the email and mundane tasks for your least productive time of the day. I am freshest and most productive in the morning. That is when I need to do things that require my utmost attention. I go into a slump around 2 pm. That is when I should answer mundane email, go through the mail and do things I dread. Why waste my optimal time doing the most dreaded tasks. But that is exactly what we do isn’t it? We go into work, if we are morning people, full of caffeine and energy for the day and then get bogged down with email and busy work, forgetting to utilize our best hours of our most enjoyed tasks. Master your day, make a plan.

So, how do I deal with lack of real, institutional priorities? I have to set personal priorities and work from there. Working from my strengths, knowing what is important to me personally and making an action plan will redeem the time and allow me to deal with the frustration of the lack of true institutional priorities. So my goals will be:
• To spend the first hour at my desk writing and reflecting every day.
• Begin defining the task that is most important for me to do that feeds me each day.
• Spend fifteen minutes each day to maximize the important and minimize the mundane.

How about you?

Consumed by the Call,
Gracious God, who grants me 1,440 minutes each and every day, help me to live in the awareness that You should define what is most important in my day and help me live in the shadow of your will. In the name of the One who lived every day on purpose, Jesus the Christ, I pray. Amen

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