Defining Work and Success for Yourself

Back in July, I participated in a TED style in-studio event called Inspired Success. I spoke on defining work and success for ourselves. Each of the speakers received their video file this week. I wanted to share mine and also give you a bit of background on the experience.

Getting involved as a speaker for this event was pretty random. I went to a networking lunch in June. A woman there suggested I contact Sunday about speaking for her Inspired Success event, after hearing about my work. So I called and Sunday bravely took a chance on someone she had never met!

Then as we got closer and closer to the July event, I had a lot of second thoughts about participating. The “Inspired Success” theme wasn’t resonating with me so my speech was feeling really inauthentic. I almost canceled two days beforehand! It was the “breakdown before the breakthrough” as Sunday coined it. Wednesday afternoon, I sat down and wrote what I really thought and this is what came out:

Success is an elusive concept and shouldn’t be our focus.

While I felt pretty awkward suggesting that “success” shouldn’t be our primary focus at an event called Inspired Success, the audience was wonderfully supportive. In my speech, I suggested “success” is sort of a vague idea – it’s really arbitrary, not guaranteed to be replicable and can feel really empty when we “achieve” it. Instead of success being the end goal, I suggested that meaningful work and meaningful relationships are often the things we’re really looking for. In order to see “success” in these areas, we need to redefine work. Defining work properly means we learn to see value in more than just our paid employment. We need to see success in more than just dollars and fans. In fact, we need to re-engaged with our Creator and understand his calling in our lives.

Delivering the speech felt amazing – the women at this event were truly an inspiring group and the positive energy in the room was incredible. They’re doing fantastic work in our community. I felt so lucky to get to connect with many other Seattle entrepreneurs. I’m working Carin and her WISE Women group. I love Rachel‘s vision for her Leadership Launch program. Debbie and Anna have both blessed me with their wisdom and insight.

I’m so glad that I participated after all. I learned a lot about myself in the speech-writing process and was really encouraged by the stories from all the other speakers. It was another one of those moments where I felt like my calling was affirmed and the overriding emotion at the end of the day was simply gratitude.

Inspired Success is now an on-going community and Sunday is hosting her second in-studio event tomorrow in fact. If you’re a Seattle area woman leader, check out the community on Facebook here and get involved!

Calling & A Meat Marination Stick

You’ll probably laugh about how much I thought about this story over the weekend! I read this NY Times piece on Thursday about a Christian lady who credits her invention of a meat marination stick to God. You should read it. And also watch the video of Mary describing her product. Go ahead, take a break, I’ll be here with my thoughts when you get back.

meat marination stick
Image Source: Cuisine Noir

Now if you’re like me, your first instinct when you hear someone say “God told me” is to tense up and wait for the crazy. And in fact, I likely read the entire article with a skeptical face. Sometime later in the evening, I realized I should know better by now. I’m always ranting and raving about how diverse our callings can be and about how we need to quit making secular/spiritual divides. I thought I’d already learned to appreciate how often God uses the material and the physical things of this world to shape, grow and bless us.

And I started thinking, What if God really gave her recipes? What if he really did give her a vision for this meat stick? Why not? I thought about heaven and considered the possibility that God uses material tools to create his feasts there even though I always picture it all appearing like magic. But what if God loves the process of cooking? What if he gave this lady a little gift from heaven to bless her family and church? Why not?

Maybe all that thinking is too crazy for you, but it totally reminded me again again that we tend to carry around assumptions and expectations about what makes a calling, or what work God is really trying to do, or how he wants people to serve each other. And these assumptions and expectations can blind us from seeing the work God is already doing in ours and other people’s lives. We can be so busy looking for what we think should be there, that we miss what really is. It’s another part of the reason, I really prefer to say that we recover our callings rather than discover them. Our callings are already present in our lives. Whether we can see them or not is the real question.

Have you had an experience like this?

Creating Culture whether “Sacred” or “Secular”

As a bit of a follow-up to the last post, I wanted to share this excerpt from Andy Crouch’s Culture-Making – it’s a fabulous book, you should read it – and he’s coming out with a new one called Playing God which I can’t wait to get my hands on. This part is describing his time doing campus ministry at Harvard:

We labored under a subtle but real dichotomy between sacred and secular, granting full legitimacy only to callings to “ministry” under the pretext of subverting Harvard’s lure to wealth, fame and power. So we recruited more than one young associate with the rhetoric of renouncing their ambitions (we called it “leaving their nets”), only to see them struggle doggedly to produce the kind of abundance we had promised. More than one eventually left us and took up “secular” jobs – where they found a sense of freedom and joy that they had never experienced in our demanding company of workers for the gospel.

Is it possible to participate in culture, to create culture, outside of the church and experience every bit as much divine multiplication as those who work inside the church? For centuries many Christians would have answered no. A few had “vocations” – a word that still today, in Catholic contexts, refers to a specifically religious life – and the rest did not. To have a vocation was to withdraw to the edges of culture . . .

But there are two serious problems with this approach to vocation. First, even a full-time sacred agenda turns out to be no guarantee of either holiness or fruitfulness. Segmenting off a “sacred” set of cultural activities sets us up for disillusionment when the sacred specialists turn out to be no more creative and no less corruptible than their secular counterparts. Second, it becomes impossible to do justice to the biblical story, in which the whole world was created good, the first human beings were given a cultural task, not just instructed to be dutiful worshipers (unlike in other creation myths of the time), and the Son of God himself spend most of his life as a carpenter.

The religious or secular nature of our cultural creativity is simply the wrong question. The right question is whether, when we undertake the work we belie to be our vocation, we experience the joy and humility that come only when God multiplies our work so that it bears thirty, sixty and a hundredfold beyond what we could expect from our feeble inputs. Vocation – calling – becomes another word for a continual process of discernment,  examining the fruits of our work to see whether they are producing that kind of fruit, and doing all we can to scatter the next round of seed in the most fruitful places.

I would love to see more conversations taking place that help us “subvert the lure of wealth, fame and power” within the context of normal jobs and daily life. I also love the idea that we should ask whether we are experiencing joy and humility in our work.

Calling in The Voice

The VoiceJohn and I have been enjoying watching “The Voice” together this season. We had never watched it before but for some reason the set-up for this reality show is more engaging than other singing shows. It’s a little less cutthroat-feeling and it’s fun to see the coaches argue with each other. It’s also interesting hearing people talk about their dreams.

In the course of the show, the contestants give mini-interviews and many of them speak about getting confirmation of their “callings” when they’re picked for the next rounds. Initially the choices are up to the coaches and then it becomes an audience voting system as the show progresses.

This gives me pause. I wonder how all the pieces really go together. Talent. Calling. Recognition, “making my dreams come true” “showing America who I am” etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a great way for these people to get onto the career paths they’re looking for and affirmation of our talents is something all of us look for . . . but what happens when the validation stops? When America stops voting for you?

If voting validates your calling, what happens when the next vote sends you home?

There’s a tricky balance to handling the input we get about what we’re doing with our lives. Sometimes, its essential to hear the message from those around us because we’re deluding ourselves. Other times, we have to ignore outside opinion to continue forging ahead. We have to be careful who we lean on because I think it’s possible to have callings that no one else validates for us. Or maybe not in such a definitive way. If we wait for cues from others to move forward, we risk missing out on our callings. Knowing who you are and trusting yourself is crucial. At the same time, we can really be blind and needed wise advisers who can speak truth to us.

I see I’m back to the balance theme. Wow, I feel like that happens to me all the time (see my Nuance post?)

The contestants left on The Voice are all extremely talented people. They definitely have vocal gifts. There aren’t delusions about talent at least. But I wonder if there is still blindness about what following the music dream is supposed to look like. Should they all get record deals and start down the path of touring and concerts? Maybe but maybe not. Are they all called to serve with their voices? Probably . . . but the way those callings play out may look very different than winning The Voice – in fact for most of them it will have to look different – there is only one winner after all. Their career as artists may not follow the “path of success” they think they need to be on in order to fulfill their callings. I hope they realize that when America likes someone else a little more in the next round of voting.

So what’s our takeaway since most of us don’t have superstar singing skills we’re currently displaying on a TV show? Well, I think it’s just good to think about where we’re looking for validation. What are the things you think should happen for you to feel affirmed/confirmed in your calling? Who are the people you think should do that for you? Are they the right people? Is the affirmation or confirmation from others truly necessary? Is it possible that you’re already pre-approved by the very Person who gave you your gifts in the first place and wants you to steward them for his glory?

Mid-March Check in

Just a quick check in for a blog post today – can’t believe March is already half over. It’s been busy as you can maybe tell from the fact that I haven’t blogged in 10 days. Saturday through Tuesday last week, my parents came to visit (or maybe we should say the grandparents came to visit Canon!) and we had a great time all together. I also had fun showing my mom how to make some of the recipes I’ve done recently and help her with her website (she’s starting an organizing business!).

March visitThen, Thursday I got to speak in chapel at Shoreline Christian School (John graduated from there 10 years ago now). I’m planning on doing more of that in the future so it was great to have this opportunity and get my feet wet again in the world of speaking.

I spoke on how your calling and the call to share the gospel are connected. First, I defined calling as “God calling you to himself through Jesus Christ, and then calling you to serve others. Your call to serve others will be unique and play out in a variety of ways throughout your life.” Then I looked at two ways that calling and the call to share the gospel go together. First, I think it’s easier to share your faith when you’re pursuing your calling in all areas of your life and second, that sharing the gospel will happen through your other gifts (not just verbally). I shared the stories of Gutenberg and the printing press and Charlotte Elliott’s hymn-writing (she wrote “Just as I am”). I got some positive feedback from the teachers so I hope the students got something out of it as well.

Next week is going to be busy and probably exhausting so I would love extra prayer as I take my Birkman course. And pray for John and Canon that they’ll do fine together for eight hours a day for three days. Thankfully we’ll be staying with John’s parents so they’ll get some grandparent time as well!

With all these things going on, further organizing projects have been on hold at our house but my mom has promised to help us tackle the garage when she comes back for Canon’s first birthday next month. I have also tried a few more recipes but I’ll just share this one since we loved it:

Spaghetti Squash & Meatballs

Besides all that I have been trying to get through some library books before they’re due again. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

Darkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness by Kathryn Green-McCreight

Families Where Grace is in Place: Building a Home Free of Manipulation, Legalism, and Shame by Jeff VanVonderen

Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health by Gary Taubes

I’m not going to get through the last one before it’s due but what I’ve read has been fascinating. I recommend all three books.

What are you up in March? What are you reading? 

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi If you haven’t watched this intriguing little documentary, you might just want to check it out for an evening (actually it’s a little less than an hour and a half so it won’t take you very long). The film follows Jiro, an 85-year-old man who has been making sushi for most of his life. He and his restaurant have received worldwide recognition and awards (like 3 stars from Michelin) even though it’s located in what looks like a commercial basement and seats only 10 people at a time. Jiro truly lives, breathes and dreams sushi.

Even if you never eat “real” sushi (I haven’t), it was fascinating to see the complicated process of creating sushi; the art that goes into these tiny bite-sized creations. The music is beautiful and the reminder at the end about the devastating effects of over-fishing was all the more potent when understood as a daily reality in the story than when you simply hear statistics.

I watched this film, vacillating between admiration and sadness. I truly admired Jiro’s dedication to his craft. He willingly repeats the same steps every day, seeking improvement in the tiniest details. He exemplifies what it means to master a skill. This attitude of patience directly contrasts so much of our culture today. We want instant results and quick fixes. Mastery takes a long time and many of us lack the will power to persevere. Jiro has self-discipline in spades.

I also admired his devotion to quality and simplicity. He doesn’t cut corners and builds long-term relationships with trusted vendors. His focus is solely on sushi – he doesn’t do appetizers or provide a menu. Instead of expanding and diversifying, he hones the simple dishes to perfection. This too stands in contrast to much of our culture in North America with our love of NEW! BIGGER! IMPROVED! 50+ FLAVORS!

But, there was something terribly sad about it all. He has two sons but you never see or hear about his wife. At one point, he mentions that on the rare holidays he would sleep in, his sons thought a stranger was staying in the house. His workaholism has achieved 3 Michelin stars, but at what cost? His son, at 50 is still waiting to inherit the family business and will have to be twice as good to even be considered on par with his father. Apprentices don’t last a day under the perfectionism of the master. One apprentice tells us how he cried the day he finally made the eggs correctly (it took over 250 attempts in the course of several months). The relationships seem harsh and the comments leave you wondering just how much emotion is lurking under those calm faces. At one point, I looked at John and asked, “I wonder how much they hate each other?”

There are always trade-offs, always costs to the decisions we make, the paths we pursue. What we choose, reveals our values, our biggest priorities in life. Does anyone really find a balance? Considering Japanese culture, perhaps Jiro is not that unique. As a nation, their dedication to hard work is legendary. Maybe these kinds of relationships are normal? Maybe there is no hate in the hierarchy? I would have liked to watch this with a Japanese friend, someone who could more thoroughly discuss the cultural dynamics and family relationships.

Jiro explains simply that he was left to fend for himself by the age of 10. The obsessive hard work meant rising from poverty to wealth and security for his children. But, while he allowed his sons to finish high school, they didn’t get to go to college and began working at the restaurant instead. The oldest son wistfully mentions at one point that he had wanted to be a race car driver. While Jiro’s legacy will endure through his sushi chef sons, does that make everything worth it? What was it all for?

I was left with a sense that this is how people without hope navigate life. Sushi is the lifeboat or a buoy to cling to, something to provide meaning, something to focus on. I’m probably reading far too much into it, but the absence of God came through clearly to me. Maybe that’s where we find the difference between a calling and an obsession. Jiro’s meaning in life comes from his obsession with sushi, whereas I would argue that a calling is not what gives us meaning in life – it’s our relationship with the Caller that does.  And maybe part of our callings is to hold them loosely – to seek balance even there. I’ll have to spend a bit more time chewing on that idea so meanwhile, I’d love to hear what you think about calling, balance, sushi or anything other thoughts this triggered.


Calling in Harry Potter

So for some Friday fun, I thought I’d share about how people follow their callings in Harry Potter. But it’s not what you think, I’m not planning to spend this post talking about Harry’s epic journey towards the confrontation and destruction of Voldemort. No, today I want to talk about George and Fred Weasley.

Calling in Harry PotterFred and George, for those of you who haven’t read Harry Potter, are mischievous twins who basically exist as comic relief throughout the series. They’re pranksters, love a good joke, don’t take life too seriously and don’t seem too concerned about school or getting ahead in life. Their mother despairs over their future and thinks they’re squandering their talents.

But as the series progresses, you see Fred and George get serious about their fun. Their love of pranks leads them toward starting a joke shop of their own. They’re a prime example of working out their motivated abilities. They know themselves well enough to know that the career paths their older brothers have followed aren’t for them. And, because they’re motivated, they actually show a lot of skill and talent in creating the products they want to provide. While their mother mourns that they aren’t applying themselves to schoolwork, they’re actually working really hard to make a living using their unique talents.

One of the things that has really struck me on this read-through is that initially their talents aren’t appreciated as talents because they aren’t “useful” to real life. But Harry makes a good point at the end of Book Four when he provides them with the capital to really pursue their joke-shop dream, “We could all do with a few laughs. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to need them more than usual before long.” He validates their gift for humor as a necessary contribution to their community rather than viewing it as a nuisance. How many of us have talents and interests that bring us joy and yet aren’t considered “useful” by others? I think sometimes we have a hard time seeing our own gifts and abilities precisely because they don’t necessarily square with what other people want or expect from us.

So there you go, some deep thoughts on calling coming out of Harry Potter. Enjoy the weekend!

Calling Stories for the Weekend

Hope everyone had a good week! Here are two inspiring stories of how calling plays out so differently in people’s lives. They’re ones I read awhile ago but I loved them so I thought I’d share them as weekend reading.

The first one is just a short article on Johannes Gutenberg, who still directly influences our lives every day (at least if you’re a bookworm like me). He took the great commission to spread the good news to an entirely new level. It’s so interesting to realize he probably reached thousands more people by staying in his shop working on his invention than by going out on the streets and preaching. You can read it here.

The second one is a much longer article highlighting the story of the owners of DEMDACO Corp. You may not be familiar with that name but you probably are familiar with what they make. This was a very interesting connection for me as I’ve had one of their figurines since my graduation (see pic). My high school boyfriend bought it for me (or maybe his mom, who knows?). I had never seen a WillowTree Angel before, but the one I received still lives on my night table. While its title is “Courage” I also see “Joy” – a full embrace of life, a hope unquenchable, a quest for victory. It resonated deeply with my vision for life, a vision that even clearer now than it was then. It was an interesting coincidence for me to read about the founders and their own lifelong quest to integrate their faith and work into vocation, or a sense of calling. Here is the link.

I get a lot of great material from the Q Ideas website that both these articles come from so I hope you enjoy these two. Have a great weekend!

Bezalel and Oholiab: The Artist’s Calling

You’re probably thinking “Who?” Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of them either until an author in another book I was reading pointed them out. This may be the only time in the Bible that these two men are mentioned but they are mentioned because of their callings which I find very exciting. Check it out:

Exodus 31: 1-11 Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze,to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.”

This is one of the few and exciting instances where we see the Holy Spirit specifically gifting someone in the arts. Artists are notoriously insecure about their work. We often feel that we’ve been gifted to make art but then wonder why we do it when so much of the world isn’t interested, is unappreciative or questions how art is really useful or productive. If you’re one of those artists, I hope you get some encouragement out of this. God fills Bezalel with his Spirit, with wisdom, understanding, knowledge and skills, not to preach or teach with words, but to speak through the pieces he makes. God values how these material things are going to look and takes care that several people are specially called to the role of producing them.

Creating beauty in the world is a calling that our overtly-evangelical mindsets sometimes overlook. We wonder if it can really be a calling when our human perspective can’t see how the arts are directly winning souls for the kingdom. And yet, Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Bringing beauty into the world in the form of excellent art is a worthy calling.

Moses: Trying to Say No to a Calling

The story of God calling Moses covers two chapters so I’ve tried to include as much of the story as possible and differentiated with italics. Hope it’s still readable!

Exodus 3

1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

Not all of us get such a clear signal to pay attention. But even this small piece of the story offers us some great information about the nature of calling: Once you start paying attention, you most likely will hear something. And once you hear, you should respond and keep listening. God tells Moses about his plan for the rescue of the Israelites and then issues a call to Moses. I’m not sure you can get clearer then this:

10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

After this call, something really interesting happens. It’s a process you may be familiar with yourself . . . Moses starts raising all kinds of objections!

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

 12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

 15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

For the rest of the chapter, God takes the time to spell out what’s going to happen when Moses goes back to Egypt. This strikes me as unusual, when in some many other place God asks for obedience even in great uncertainty, but maybe due to the enormity of the call, God takes the time to reassure Moses with the details of what will take place. This apparently still isn’t enough. Moses responds with doubt:

Exodus 4 

1 Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?”

In response to these further questions, God demonstrates his power to Moses by showing him two miracles and describing a third one which he will perform for the people in Egypt. I’d like to think that at this point, I’d be ready to go. Doubts dismissed by an awesome display of power. Unfortunately, we’re all as human as Moses, who decides he wants to back out of the plan. He starts with the subtle excuse:

10 Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

God doesn’t buy this excuse at all and finally Moses bluntly refuses the call:

13 But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

Wow. Really? Moses point blank refuses God even after a long conversation and a huge display of miraculous power. Despite these things, Moses asks to be excused from the job. Why?

My guess is that, besides normal fear, doubt, sheer laziness, unwillingness to change the status quo etc, Moses fears the power God will give him. He abused power pretty badly when he lived in Egypt – he took it upon himself to execute justice by killing an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave.

It’s interesting to me that Moses asks “Who am I to go to Pharaoh?” when he probably knows full well that he’s the most perfectly suited person God could pick to approach the Pharaoh. He was raised in the palace; he has intimate knowledge of Egypt’s ruling class. He grew up in utterly unique circumstances that are culminating in God’s request to lead his people. He was literally born for this. “Who am I” is not humility in this case, it’s just plain fear.

All of us have Moses in our hearts. We seek to be let off the hook, holding on to our limitations as excuses rather than trusting in God’s ability. On the flipside, some of us rightly fear having power because it has been abused so much in the past. We don’t believe that God will protect us from our own power-hungry natures.

When Moses does trust him, God sends Moses on one of the most epic missions ever to rescue his people and Moses becomes one of the greatest Prophets and leaders of the Old Testament, seeing the glory of God and performing great miracles in God’s power.

How many of us repeatedly reject the calls God places in our lives, and then wonder why we feel spiritually dry? While we may think we’re being humble by rejecting opportunities to have influence, we may be actually be denying God’s desire to bring his transforming power into the world through his body. If you have been rejecting God’s call, I think this story offers a huge lesson in how patient God is with us. Despite his anger over Moses’s initial refusal, God didn’t disqualify him or take away the calling.