Career: We Can Never Climb High Enough
- Gary Smalley From Joy That Lasts
- 2008 20 Mar
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.
Many within the Christian community fight the same temptation. They, too, are prone to accepting the myth that they can find fulfillment by achieving position. Some Christians would love to share the limelight with a television personality or be able to sing like their favorite Christian recording artist. Believers who hold secular jobs may long to be able to work for a ministry organization or a church. They presume that if they were working in a Christian environment they would surely not be bothered by the problems and pettiness they encounter in the secular workplace. Working in that type of environment, they think, would be like having a perpetual "quiet time."
Unfortunately, even in a ministry setting, certain things about a job can still leave us lacking lasting fulfillment. One reason jobs do not satisfy is that they all have at least one thing in common: Work!
How many men and women have sacrificed their family life for a higher position only to discover that the position they sought didn't fulfill their expectations? And in the process they lost their relationship with their children. Instead of the fulfillment they were looking for, what did they find? Hurt feelings, anxiety, fear, stress—the very things they were hoping to avoid.
Others are obsessed with work now because of some perceived comfort they look forward to experiencing in the distant future. There's a story I heard that expresses this well. An American businessman was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with a single fisherman docked. Inside the boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
"Only a little while," the Mexican replied.
"Then why didn't you stay out longer and catch more fish?"
"This is enough to meet my family's needs."
"But what do you do with the rest of your time?"
"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, senor."
The American scoffed. "I am a Harvard M.B.A. and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You could leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles, where you would run your expanding enterprise."
The Mexican fisherman asked, "But, senor, how long will this all take?"
"Fifteen to twenty years."
"But what then, senor?"
The American laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right you would announce a public offering and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions!"
"Millions, senor? Then what?"
"Why, then you would retire. Move to a small coastal village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your grandkids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll into the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."
Other areas breed insecurity as well. Many people think they would be fulfilled if they could lead a great cause, work full-time helping people, become a media celebrity, cut a record album, win a political election, or write a book. Consumed by the excitement of these activities, some ignore the potential cost in time or finances, loss of privacy, and weighty demands from supporters.
One of the highlights of my life was when I taped my first infomercial. The celebrity host was Dick Clark. I thought this was the ultimate—life didn't get any better than this! Just how long did that feeling last? Two days. Then I plunged into deep discouragement. I had expected this experience to be a lot more fulfilling. But it was no big deal. I was plugging into the wrong power source.
We need to refocus our expectations on a totally different source. It's not enough to stop expecting fulfillment from people, things, and career. After my talk with Greg that morning, I realized where life did not originate. But I still did not know how to plug into the genuine source of life. I couldn't imagine how or why I had failed to learn such an important truth during my years of seminary and church involvement, or in my association with Bill and his seminars. If I didn't know the answer, who did?
My search for answers began with God himself. My prayer for help was nothing more than a whimpering cry: "God, teach me what I'm missing. What am I failing to understand?" What I discovered was that I was using the wrong extension cord. People and things and career were like trying to use a 110-volt power source with an appliance designed for 220 volts. We are designed for 220 volts, but we are trying to charge our batteries with 110 volts, and it doesn't work. The plugs and outlets don't even match!
More than twenty years ago I first prayed that prayer for help, and I can honestly say that the years since have been the most fulfilling, adventurous, and overflowing I've ever experienced.
Here are three reasons why my battery is almost always fully charged today:
- While negative emotions such as hurt feelings, envy, jealousy, anger, depression, lust, fear, and worry can still crop up, I make a conscious effort not to allow them to linger.
- Positive, life-giving emotions have replaced negative emotions. I regularly experience love for and from others, and my inner joy and happiness do not depend on God's creation. I have an inner calm and contentment—a peace of mind—that I never used to experience.
- I've learned how to use the painful, emotionally difficult experiences of life to benefit me and those around me.
A fulfilling life has nothing to do with people, things, or career. When the true source of fulfillment floods us, a deepening sense of security accompanies it, assuring us that the source of life cannot be yanked away.
Once our life is charged by this source, we are truly free, for the first time, to enjoy God's creation—because we can appreciate it without depending on it for fulfillment. This was my mistake—expecting life from God's creation. We live overflowing lives because the source of life, instead of the gifts of life, brings us contentment. The question I had was how to find and tap into this power source.
© Copyright 2003 Smalley Relationship Center