This article is a transcript of David Kim’s talk at the Intersect Wisdom Forum.
Why can’t we love our work? It’s clear more than ever that we live in a society where people really want to love their work.
A few weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal, there was an article that was entitled, “I Don’t Have a Job. I Have a Higher Calling.” In this article, the author Rachel Feinsing writes,
In part, professionals are demanding more meaning from their careers because work simply takes up more of life than before, thanks to longer hours, competitive pressures and technological tethers of the modern job. Meanwhile, traditional sources of meaning and purpose, such as religion, have receded in many corners of the country….
The words ‘mission,’ ‘higher purpose,’ ‘change the world’ or ‘changing the world’ were mentioned on earnings calls, in investor meetings and industry conferences 3,243 times in 2014, up from 2,318 five years ago, according to a Factiva search.
We live in a culture today when people are desperately looking for jobs they can love, jobs that give people a sense of deep meaning and purpose. And you see that especially in the millennial generation.
Why is it that when we look at the last twenty years, the hunger and desire to find work in this deeply fulfilling way has increased?
I want to take us through the last twenty years to give a bit of background to understand why this idea of changing the world has become so significant when we think about the nature of work.
Let me just warn you, this is not the prettiest picture….
- Back in 1998 in the realm of government and politics, we had the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. While President Clinton was acquitted by the Senate of his impeachment charges, this brought to the highest office in our land the accusations of sexual misconduct.
- In 2001, we experienced a kind of terror and horror we had never experienced this side of the Atlantic. Teenagers… saw for the first time some significant domestic violence.
- When we look at the aspect of horror and terror in America, we witnessed shootings from Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School. We realized that terror could not only strike in the halls of power, but also in the most unsuspecting places. Like movie theaters or the final yards of a marathon, making the world seem even more dangerous, capricious and random.
- In the area of large corporations, in 2001 the Enron Corporation was involved in a scandal that involved the deliberate mismanagement of millions of dollars which led to what was at that time the largest corporate bankruptcy. The Enron scandal was then followed by the discrediting of one of the world’s largest auditing companies, Arthur Anderson. Shortly after, another major corporation WorldCom filed for bankruptcy due to accounting scandals that inflated the company’s assets by approximately $11 million.
- Then in 2002, the Boston Globe exposed a series of sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Diocese of Boston, one of the largest Catholic diocese in America. The Globe revealed that the Catholic church had been aware of matters of sexual abuse, and chose to cover up these instances. The exposé began a frenzy of media investigations that continue to this day with accusations in the thousands.
- In our economy in 2008, Leyman Brothers, America’s fourth largest investment bank, declared bankruptcy, contributing to what would become a global recession in 2009.
Now that’s just the last sixteen years. And you can understand why people have now equated a desire for meaning in their jobs to changing the world. This hunger to find the right job has a sense of impact to increase our desire to want to love our job. We really want to find work that we can sincerely say we love.
Let me go deeper and ask the question: Why can’t we find jobs that we love? Circumstances are certainly a part of it, but there’s a deeper element that the Scriptures begin to expose with respect to why we can’t love our jobs.
We can’t love our work because we want our work to do something it was never designed to do.
And when we look a little bit deeper, a big part of our dissatisfaction with our work is the fact that we want our work to love us. You see, we can’t love our work because we want our work to do something it was never designed to do. We want our work to give us a sense of our identity, our worth, our value and our security. And we end up placing upon work a weight that it can’t hold.
Imagine sitting in front of your supervisor or your boss, and you’re getting a performance review. They say a couple of positive things about what you’ve done over the past quarter or the past year, and then they start to criticize things you’ve done as well — areas of improvement.
But as you hear it, very few of us can listen with a heart that genuinely is open to areas of improvement. Instinctively, we get defensive about what we hear. We get defensive because we realize what they’re talking about is not just our job performance, they’re talking about us. It cuts deep, even when we begin to fail in areas that we can grow and improve in, because our hearts have placed the weight of our identity and our worth in our jobs.
Whether you’re a house mother (taking care of your children day in and day out), you’re a CEO (running a company) or you’re a student (studying for your finals), all of us at every stage of life can have a challenge of finding our identity in our work. When we begin to peel the layers, we desperately want to find a sense of our value from what we do day in and day out.
But here’s how the gospel renews and changes all that. When we look at the Scriptures, Paul writes that we have been called into a body from which we have received a calling.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. (Ephesians 4:1)
Ephesians 4:1 uses that word calling twice. And he begins to say, if I could paraphrase, what you do flows out of who you have become in Christ.
In the gospel, we have been renewed in our identity as children of God, receiving an identity that we could never earn or merit, no matter how hard we work, no matter how high we climb the corporate ladder. You can even receive all the accolades and the awards in the community, and yet never feel satisfied in the work that you do because, again, work was never meant to have that weight.
Work was never meant to be the source of our identity, but the expression of it. And in the gospel, we have a powerful renewal of our identity. As people created in his image, we now can see our work properly. We can now love and serve our work because it is not the source of our identity. We can see the value our work brings to the people around us, our communities, our sectors and our industries.
Work was never meant to be the source of our identity, but the expression of it.
And we begin to approach our work in a way that is very different from the average person working on the ground — because we see this as part of our calling. The Christian notion of calling begins with this: Who you are is the basis of what you do. So when we decouple the weight of our identity, value and worth from our work and onto the gospel, we begin to work in a way that we can actually serve the work, and not try to have the work serve us.
We understand this explicitly. We understand our work should be the expression of our identity when you look at a child. Imagine if a child came up to you, gave you a drawing that they spent hours creating. You looked at the drawing, crumpled up the piece of paper, throw it in the trashcan, look at the child and say, “I don’t love this. I love you!”
The child would look at you and start to cry. Because instinctively the child knows that work is an expression of our identity.
You see, in the gospel the work we do flows out of who we are as God’s dearly beloved children.
This article is a transcript of David Kim’s talk at the Intersect Wisdom Forum.