We’ve all worked with people who never seem happy in their profession. They come in on time, do their job and follow the letter of the law, but they have no spirit. Living for the weekends, they can’t wait to punch out everyday and do what they’re truly passionate about. They’re always looking around the corner for the next big thing, for the ultimate job that will allow them to do what they really love.
Unfortunately for most of us, we’ve all felt that way at one time or another - feeling like our work lacks the meaning, fulfillment, and excitement we know we were meant to enjoy. There’s a tendency in our culture, on many levels, to fantasize about other situations awaiting us that will offer everything we dream about; offer us the ability to focus on what makes us tick, what gives us passion. No doubt that some of this comes from popular thinking on the subject. We’ve all probably heard advice about finding work for which we have passion, and while there may be some value to that, I believe it’s overstated. Fact is, passion doesn’t always equal a living. And on top of it passions can, and do, change. Instead of wishing for the job that happens to fit our passion (which may be an illusion anyway), we should consider bringing our passion to the job we have.
That’s precisely the advice in Seth Godin’s bestselling book Linchpin. “Conventional wisdom,” he points out, “is that you should find a job that matches your passion. I think this is backwards .... Transferring your passion to your job is far easier than finding a job that happens to match your passion.” His underlying premise is that, instead of simply existing as another cog in a giant system, you should focus on making what you do not just a job, but an art. Make yourself indispensable.
Being an artist in Godin’s sense means giving gifts with no thought of return, no thought of financial payback. Artists are gift-focused, and their tenacity has nothing to do with income or job security. Instead, it’s about finding a way to change people in a positive way, and to do it with a gift. It’s an insistence of doing important work, and it’s the gift of emotional labor.
A gift can mean many things, including unmeasurable and unrequired pleasant service, respect and joy to another person. It can be the act of giving someone a smile, of human connection, of taking initiative, of being surprising, of being creative. And really anyone in any job can do art. There are waiters and writers and musicians and doctors and nurses and lawyers who find art in their work. For Godin the job is not your work; what you do with your heart and soul is the work. What he’s saying is that bringing art, insight, and initiative to your work ensures that what you do can never become a commodity. It makes you irreplaceable in essence.
This is very good advice, and in some ways I don’t think even Godin realizes just how good. But that’s only because he’s missed the real point, in that he’s missed the real why we’d want to pour our heart and soul into whatever work we do. That is, a why that goes deeper than the mere art of it all, giving gifts, and becoming indispensable. But for those of us standing in a biblical tradition, Godin’s very helpful book can take on even greater significance.
There’s an ancient adage that there’s nothing new under the sun, and in this case it’s true. What Godin argues here had already been argued thousands of years ago, yet with perhaps even more force. Those ancient writers round out Godin’s remarks in an important way. St. Paul, for instance, back in the first century said this: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” Allow me to dissect a little. It’s interesting that the New American Standard Bible, in translating the manner in which we’re to work, uses the English word “heartily.” While heartily gives some indication of what Paul is saying, it’s a little weak. The actual term he uses here is the Greek word ψυχής, which means soul. What he’s trying to convey here is that, in whatever work we do, we ought to work with all of our heart and soul.
So with an understanding of Paul’s thought here, Godin’s remarks get filled out, like a skeleton that’s invigorated with flesh and blood. In every job you have give it your all, serving your employer and customers as though serving Christ himself, for it’s really and truly Christ Jesus we serve. And through our service to others, He blesses mankind - our employers, our customers, vendors, parents, children, etc. Our work in other words, our art to use Godin’s language, becomes the occasion in which God himself blesses those we serve. Talk about creating art! Talk about providing the ultimate reason for making everything we do a work of art, offering gifts that connect, inspire, encourage, and enrich the lives of those we serve.
Note: The Image at the top of this post is "A Cobbler at Work" by Abraham Diepraam (1622–1670)