Rising to Your Level of Misery

dirty-jobs30They can't pay you enough money to do a job you hate. I have a lot of lasting memories of my grandfather--homegrown tomatoes, "Heart and Soul" duets on the piano--but that's the primary piece of wisdom I remember him passing along to me. And it's a good one.

I was thinking about Grandpa's advice when I read a recent piece in the New York Times, Rising to Your Level of Misery at Work. In it Arthur Brooks talks about the tendency to get promoted past the place where you find joy and passion in your profession:

People generally have a “bliss zone,” a window of creative work and responsibility to match their skills and passions. But then the problems start. Those who love being part of teams and creative processes are promoted to management. Happy engineers become stressed-out supervisors. Writers find themselves in charge of other writers and haranguing them over deadlines. In my years in academia, I saw happy professors become bitter deans, constantly reminiscing about the old days doing cutting-edge research and teaching the classes they loved.

Brooks says many people respond to this happiness gap by drinking heavily. What he recommends instead is finding a way back to that bliss point. As my mother said recently, "Whenever I was feeling sad, I had a friend who told me to remember the last time I was happy and then return to what I was doing then." I like it.

But it's not easy. Maybe the last time you were happy was before the chronic illness struck, or during your marriage that has now ended. In the case of work, sometimes shifting things away from misery means lost income you've come to count on. More deeply, we're conditioned to see success as a function of progress. Moving back is synonymous with failure.

This article was tugging at me for several days last week until I finally figured out why: both my husband and I have been in this situation in recent years. In his case, he revised his job description to better reflect his gifts and his value to his industry. In my case, I have been invited to apply for positions that would make sense on a certain assumed trajectory: You've been a pastor of a small church? How about a larger church? In one case, I got pretty far along in the process before realizing that the job, as wonderful as it was, was not mine to do. Of course, not every job is pure bliss--even the bliss zone has its headaches. But as I joked to a friend soon after taking myself out of the running, "That's a good ulcer. It's just not my ulcer."

In my husband's and my case, we didn't make these moves because of some special cleverness on our part. It was the practice of Sabbath over the course of many years that showed us the way and helped us clarify what we love, what we value and what we want our lives to look like. That's what makes it such an important practice. I've preached on the story of the Hebrew people as slaves in Egypt and how Pharaoh heaped more and more work on them. And I said, "Sabbath isn’t about being well rested so you can go back to Pharaoh’s job site. Sabbath is about realizing that you don’t want to make those bricks anymore."

~

Photo is Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs, whom I wrote about in a post awhile back called 'Follow Your Bliss' and Other Myths about Call.

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A Pastor without a Congregation

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 9.12.32 AM “Welcome to outside the dome, Traveler. We have been waiting for you.”

Of all the messages I received on my last day of pastoral ministry, this may be my favorite.

I’ve been a pastor for the better part of twelve years, and worked in parish ministry for a good six years before that. The only thing that’s lasted longer in my adult life is my marriage. Until Adam asked me to write for this series, I hadn’t thought much about pastoral identity because for a long time now, pastor=me and me=pastor.

That doesn’t mean I had no life outside of pastoral ministry. Nor does it suggest that I approach my everyday life all “ministered up.” I mean it more in the sense of seeking congruence in my professional and personal identity. I want to be the same person in the pulpit as I am with the swim team carpool—though there are obviously different expectations and norms in each place.

Now I’m a pastor without a congregation.

READ THE REST at Adam Walker Cleaveland's blog Pomomusings. And check out his whole series on pastoral identity.

Ministry: It's a 'Dirty Job'!

Dirty-Jobs-with-Mike-Rowe-dirty-jobs-10607134-1024-768 I love a good blog-bounce! That's a word I just made up to describe a conversation that begins on one blog and bounces to another. In this case, my friend Rocky Supinger riffed on my recent post, I Don't Believe in Soul Mates. He wisely extended the argument to our vocations in his post, I Don't Believe in Soul Mates, The Job Version:

A canon of mythology has grown up around pursuing work we love, including the ubiquitous charge to “find your passion” and the well-meaning question that was posed to me almost daily in college: “what is God calling you to do with your life?” That mythology puts a ton of unnecessary pressure on people to pick the right work or else miss their God-given calling. And it obscures both the gift and the responsibility we have to work with our lives.

...We are called and suited to particular kinds of work, I believe, and God cares a great deal about how we steward the talents we’ve been given. But we should not expect passion to persist at all times in our work, and we certainly should not conclude that when energy fades so has our calling.

I couldn't agree more, and his words reminded me of a treasured bit of wisdom from Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame and written for Forbes back in 2008. His piece is called It's a Dirty Job, and I Love It! and should be read in its entirety, and not just because he talks about castrating a lamb with his teeth. (And you thought budget and finance meetings were unpleasant!)

Here's the money quote:

In the long history of inspirational pabulum, “follow your passion” has got to be the worst. Even if this drivel were confined to the borders of the cheap plastic frames that typically surround it, I’d condemn the whole sentiment as dangerous, not because it’s cliché, but because so many people believe it. Over and over, people love to talk about the passion that guided them to happiness. When I left high school–confused and unsure of everything–my guidance counselor assured me that it would all work out, if I could just muster the courage to follow my dreams. My Scoutmaster said to trust my gut. And my pastor advised me to listen to my heart. What a crock.

Why do we do this? Why do we tell our kids–and ourselves–that following some form of desire is the key to job satisfaction? If I’ve learned anything from this show, it’s the folly of looking for a job that completely satisfies a “true purpose.” In fact, the happiest people I’ve met over the last few years have not followed their passion at all–they have instead brought it with them.

Now this is a little different than Rocky's point, which is that you can be called to something even if it doesn't set your world on fire all the time. But the basic point is similar.

What do you say?

Following Your Call: Building on Buechner

Two weeks ago Tiny Church held a leadership retreat for our elders, deacons and transformation team (which is fond of calling itself the transformers... more than meets the eye!). It was a fruitful day. We've got a number of exciting things on the horizon, including our 100th anniversary celebration in 2014 and a potential building renovation. Jessica Tate, the director of NEXT Church, led us in a morning of teaching and reflection on the current state of the mainline church and some of the cultural shifts we're all weathering. At the end of the morning she set us up for an afternoon of nuts and bolts discussions by helping us answer a fundamental question: What is our particular call in this place and time? 

I've written before about my ambivalence with traditional understandings of vocation, what Frederick Buechner defines as the intersection between the world's deep need and a person's deep gladness. What Jessica offered was much more comprehensive because it offered three different areas of focus, each as indispensable as the other:

1. What are the needs of our community?

2. What gifts and resources do we offer to help address these needs?

3. What kinds of ministries energize us as a community?

These three questions come from the book and website Church Unique by Will Mancini and are illustrated in this diagram:

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 9.16.18 AM

What a revelation! It makes Buechner's rickety two-legged stool much more sturdy and stable.

I've heard for years at Tiny Church, "Let's bring back the Harvest Dinners!" This beloved tradition and ministry to the community pre-dates me, yet they're remembered by enough people that I feel like if they could be resumed, they would be by now. I suspect that the harvest dinners meet criteria #3 (excitement) but not #2 (gifts and resources), and perhaps not #1 (needs of the community).

And there are plenty of examples in our churches of ministries that combine #1 (need) and #2 (resources) but are completely devoid of #3 (excitement). These are the programs that we keep doing forever and ever, world without end, despite their sucking our will to live.

Our Sunday School ministry was a bit like that until we decided to move to the Upper Room model. Or maybe you read about The Well at Burke Presbyterian Church.

These three questions would also work on a personal level. My kids are years away from college, but I hope that when the time comes for them to choose a major, that they consider all three of these questions. I know parents who steer their kids toward business or technical field because (they feel) it satisfies #1... but it may not satisfy 2 or 3.

On the other side, I'm bracing myself for the day when Caroline announces she wants to major in musical theatre.

"Follow Your Bliss" and Other Myths about Call

These days I know a startling number of pastors and seminary graduates who cannot find jobs in the church. Some are geographically limited by spouses---many of whom are pursuing their "dream job" while the wife (and in virtually every case it's the wife) languishes in under- or unemployment. Some of my friends are quirky, or young, or gay, or they lack the pedigree to get a second look from churches who've realized that they can afford to be choosy, what with this glut of talent out there. It's very frustrating. It's frustrating for me as their friend, because these are incredibly talented people who've been seminary trained, tested, pushed and prodded, folded and spindled through the call process. But my frustration is only a fraction of what they must feel. Plus, they need to eat.

Add in the people who are in ministry calls that don't really "fit," but whose options are limited for various reasons, and I wonder if aspects of our theology of call has outlived its fruitfulness.

When I was in the call process, it was all about the Frederick Buechner quote: Your vocation is where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need. This was practically tattooed on people's foreheads as we all bustled our way toward paid ministry in the church. So what do we do with people who've discerned a call to parish ministry, but there are no jobs available? Were they just wrong? I can see how people would feel like their gladness and the world's need do not intersect, but rather run parallel to each other.

Even my current favorite quote can be problematic. Howard Thurman:

ask2

Sometimes, it isn't possible to pull and Thurman and "go and do" what makes us come alive. Sometimes we need to find a way to come alive in the exact place where we do not feel called to be.

A friend recently said she felt stuck in a less-than-ideal situation. The extrovert in me blurted out without thinking, "Maybe it's not that you're stuck. Maybe you're being held in this place until you've learned what you need to know in order to move to the next thing." I kicked myself later, because it's presumptuous of me to lay that on someone else. Sometimes the situation is just bad and we need to get out, call or no call.

So let me put it in an "I" statement: I have sometimes felt stuck, and in hindsight, many of those stuck places gave me precisely the structure and boundaries I needed to work on some things to be ready to move on.

The Danas are big fans of Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame. He wrote a wise piece for Forbes some years ago about traditional career advice in relation to the chicken sexers, lamb castraters and spider-venom collectors he meets on his show:

In the long history of inspirational pabulum, “follow your passion” has got to be the worst. Even if this drivel were confined to the borders of the cheap plastic frames that typically surround it, I’d condemn the whole sentiment as dangerous, not because it’s cliché, but because so many people believe it. Over and over, people love to talk about the passion that guided them to happiness. When I left high school–confused and unsure of everything–my guidance counselor assured me that it would all work out, if I could just muster the courage to follow my dreams. My Scoutmaster said to trust my gut. And my pastor advised me to listen to my heart. What a crock.

Why do we do this? Why do we tell our kids–and ourselves–that following some form of desire is the key to job satisfaction? If I’ve learned anything from this show, it’s the folly of looking for a job that completely satisfies a “true purpose.” In fact, the happiest people I’ve met over the last few years have not followed their passion at all–they have instead brought it with them.

I realize that follow your passion isn't exactly the same as Buechner's deep gladness and Thurman's coming alive. But I think they're related.

My husband has had a very fruitful career in IT, doing a number of different things over his twenty years in that field. Not all of his jobs have been awesome. Yet he's content with the path he's taken. And aside from a brief stint with a career counselor, he doesn't put that much thought into The Next Step or how a specific move will "set him up" for the move after that. And there's no five or ten year plan. He's simply done the next right thing as it's presented itself.

The whole thing drives me a little crazy because I'm a big goal-setter and plan-maker. It feels reactive to do it his way. But I can't argue with what I see, which is a man who's pretty content with where he is, and who somehow ends up with satisfying work that puts food on the table.

It sounds a bit like the "yes-and" of improv, eh?

Why Guilt and Duty Matter

Donald Miller has an interesting post today about why we do what we do. Excerpt:

I did an interview today and was asked about how I make decisions regarding helping others. I told the interviewer if I encounter somebody in need but don’t feel like helping them, I usually don’t. It sounds terrible, doesn’t it? But I explained the reason I don’t is because there are plenty of people I actually do feel like helping. And each of us only has so much time and so many resources, so I can’t choose both.

If I help the people I want to help, I’ll actually follow through, they will sense my sincerity, and the whole experience will be more enjoyable for both of us.

Not only this, but if I help the other person out of a sense of duty, I’m not so much helping them as I’m trying to get rid of my negative feelings of guilt or responsibility. My reasons are marginally selfish: I WANT TO STOP FEELING GUILTY.

Are there times when we should do something because we feel guilty? Sure. But I don’t think there are as many as we think. I don’t want to be driven by guilt, I want to be driven by love.

I agree and I don't. I read recently (and may have blogged it) that guilt is not a good motivator for behavior. (I remember in the movie Hotel Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina says, "We will shame the West into helping us," and I thought sadly, That's not going to work... for one thing, it assumes we have any sense of shame to begin with.)

And I do think that with so many problems in the world, and so many issues vying for our attention, I think some discernment of gifts is essential. I think Buechner's axiom is as good as any: to find the place where your deep gladness meets the world's great need.

That said, Miller's post reminded me of this bit from Office Space:

Peter Gibbons: Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you'd do if you had a million dollars and you didn't have to work. And invariably what you'd say was supposed to be your career. So, if you wanted to fix old cars then you're supposed to be an auto mechanic. Samir: So what did you say? Peter Gibbons: I never had an answer. I guess that's why I'm working at Initech. Michael Bolton: No, you're working at Initech because that question is bullshit to begin with. If everyone listened to her, there'd be no janitors, because no one would clean shit up if they had a million dollars.

Having a personal sense of satisfaction is important, but I'm not sure the answer is to listen less to our sense of guilt and duty. Perhaps we need to listen more, or listen more faithfully.

Personally, I think guilt has gotten a bad rap. The problem is we go to extremes with it. On one extreme, we experience a guilt that morphs into a crippling sense of shame, a feeling of worthlessness that manifests itself as inaction. On the other extreme, we dismiss the role of guilt altogether. One of Miller's criteria for serving "for the fun of it and the love of it" is:

I normally try to serve people I like and respect. This makes serving easy because you just get to hang out and partner with good people. Helping people you like and respect makes helping fun.

I think this is dangerous. And I don't think it's biblical, for those who care about that sort of thing.

Guilt is an emotion like any other; it is morally neutral. It's what you do with it that matters. If I ignore a homeless person on the street, I hope I feel guilty about that. Not so that I will flog myself for being a terrible person. Rather, the guilt is an important message that I need to hear: I am somehow responsible for that person. Not just when it feels good, or when I know the best way to help him or her. I am my brother and sister's keeper. I tell parishioners this all the time when they ask me whether they did the right thing by helping someone (or not helping someone they suspected was a con artist). I can't tell you that, because I don't know, I say. And then they counter, But I feel very unsettled and uncomfortable about it.

Good, I usually respond.

Later in the post Miller says:

If you asked your dad why he sacrifices so much for you, which answer would be more affirming, an answer in which he stated it was his duty as a father, or an answer in which he just said “because I love you.” Which answer seems more selfless?

I agree that the love answer is more affirming. But I don't think that acting out of love makes one more selfless. In fact, I think he creates a false dichotomy between love and duty. Duty is an outgrowth of love. What is love without a sense of duty? Warm, empty feelings.

All those nights I woke up to nurse an infant, when I was so tearfully, fretfully tired that I would have given large sums of money to have someone else do it for me, I did so because I had a responsibility to that child. And I had a responsibility to my child because I love her. They are the same thing.

One of the favorite shows in our family is “Dirty Jobs.” Mike Rowe is the host, and he travels the country visiting people who do, well, dirty jobs: leech wranglers, spider-venom collectors, roadkill cleaners, etc. He learns their jobs and usually does the work right alongside them.

Mike Rowe has spoken about the traditional advice we receive in determining our career and has called it hooey:

“When I left high school--confused and unsure of everything--my guidance counselor assured me that it would all work out, if I could just muster the courage to follow my dreams. My Scoutmaster said to trust my gut. And my pastor advised me to listen to my heart.”

“If I've learned anything from this show, it’s the folly of looking for a job that completely satisfies a ‘true purpose.’ In fact, the happiest people I’ve met over the last few years have not followed their passion at all—they have instead brought it with them.”

I say Amen.

What do you say?

Transitional Rituals

I attended a training for pastors last week in which we studied the book Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading (Heifetz, Linsky). We were struck by the spiritual threads woven throughout this 'secular' book, published by Harvard Business School. The last chapters of the book are about self-care, which is essential in general but especially if you're leading people through perilous but necessary change.

In one of these latter chapters Heifetz/Linsky talk about the need for "transitional rituals," in which we peel off the professional layers and become ourselves again. This is a peculiar and particular challenge for me, partly because I am tri-vocational (mothering, writing, pastoring) and partly because I work from home. The boundaries, both physical and mental, become blurred. The place where I put together session agendas and write sermons (in our blue room) is also where I write articles, connect with far-flung friends, and watch Kideos with my children.

I also think that this "take off your professional persona" thing can be unhelpful. I know what they're getting at. However, most people I know are seeking a life of authenticity and congruence. My three vocations (and countless other adjunct ones) require different kinds of activities. But I would hope that I am the same person regardless of what hat I wear. Clergy will sometimes lament, "You're never not the pastor." Yes, but hopefully, you're also never not yourself too.

Still, I was taken by this transitional ritual idea. Caroline gets off the bus at 4, which is when I start to wind down the work day. By 5:15, Robert is home and I need to turn my face toward the mothering role.

So here is what I've decided to do by way of transition:

Make my to-do list for the next day. I am not a morning person, and having a list of things to do, all ready to go in the morning, is the equivalent of parking downhill.

Turn off the computer. Sounds obvious, but I was often leaving it on because I work a lot in the evenings. But turning it off flips a mental switch... and I can always turn it on later if I need to.

Store the iPhone. I physically walk upstairs and plug it in to charge. That means it's nowhere near my person during dinner and bedtime. (OK, sometimes I forget to do this. Robert reads this blog.)

A spoken litany. This bit of prayer from the New Zealand prayer book does the trick:

Lord, it is evening after a long day.

What has been done has been done.

What has not been done has not been done.

Let it be... let it be.