Career: We Can Never Climb High Enough
- Monday, March 19, 2007
Our job or career is important because of what it supposedly provides for us. Jobs may provide status—most men in large part gain their identity from what they do—and they also provide money, which allows you to maintain a certain lifestyle. But even those who have significant incomes often aren't satisfied.
Work is not always fun, especially when we have to do the same thing over and over again. Besides, jobs rarely live up to our expectations. When we reach a position for which we've striven, there is usually so much pressure connected with it that it loses much of its glamour. Like owning a big home, the responsibility can consume all our energy.
Most of us focus on what we expect to gain from our job: money, security, promotions to new positions, benefits, or fulfillment. We may attain these things for a time, but no job is secure. We must continue to perform well, or we will lose our job. If the company is sold, the new management may decide it no longer needs us. The economy may slump. The marketplace may change. And all the while we grow older. Nearly all of these factors are outside of our control, but they undermine our position nevertheless.
Les worked for thirty-three years as a lineman for the phone company. He thought he had the ultimate in job security. Because of his seniority, he would be one of the last to be laid off; and a layoff was inconceivable because he worked for the largest telephone company in the world—AT&T. Who could have anticipated that Ma Bell would be forced to break up? Only three years away from retirement, Les learned his job would be phased out. There are no guarantees in life.
Over the years I've discovered something interesting while working with professional athletes. Most of us think these sports figures enjoy security with their large, multiyear contracts and the glamour of their positions. Instead, however, I often found them disgruntled when they did not perform well, when they weren't playing as often as they felt they deserved to play, when they were suffering from a nagging injury or couldn't get along with their coach. If a six- or seven-figure contract with a professional sports team is a guarantee of happiness, why do so many professional athletes demand to be traded or want to have their contracts renegotiated? And why do they have so many problems with drugs, alcohol, and divorce?
Not all professional athletes fall into this trap, to be sure. Recently, as I was working on this book, I heard of a professional baseball player, Jeff King, who left the Kansas City Royals in the middle of a season because of an injury, with three million dollars left on his contract! All he had to do to collect the money was to finish the season on the disabled list. But Jeff viewed it in a different light. "We could have helped a lot of people with that money," he admitted. "But it's just not right to take money for nothing. People might think I'm stupid, but you have to do what's right."
What's more, Jeff was ready to leave the spotlight of professional sports. He observed that "I never liked people looking at me and pointing me out and wanting my autograph. I never was comfortable with their expectations of me." And so he walked away from the "good life" and settled his family on a remote ranch in Montana.
Another recent example is the testimony of basketball superstar David Robinson after his San Antonio Spurs won their first National Basketball Association championship. In an article in Sports Illustrated, he wrote, "Everybody thinks the trophy and the ring are the ultimate things, but as valuable as they are, they're just things. They'll wind up on a shelf somewhere, but the experience of winning them, the journey, will be right here in my heart forever."2 Unlike the Academy Award-winning actor, David Robinson had learned that fame and fortune don't give meaning in life. No one can escape the truth that position does not provide lasting security and satisfaction. By the time I started to understand this principle, I had worked in both menial jobs and in what I considered the ultimate in a challenging leadership position for a large ministry. I couldn't imagine going any higher, short of replacing Bill Gothard, which I had no desire to do. Yet even at "the top of my game," I finally realized that this position could not provide the continual joy and peace I desired.
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