Just Tired of the S---

People rarely tire of their life's true vocation. Vocation, unlike jobs, is all about God's call on our life—our vocatio. To tire of that is to be tired of life itself. That happens for a variety of reasons. But it is usually pretty rare and, more often than not, it is the product of profound depression.

What is far more common (and I hear it all the time) is the kind of profound fatigue with workplace nonsense that is captured, with remarkable frequency, with the words, "I'm just tired of the s---."

That's a hard place to live spiritually. It's the place where cynicism takes root. It's the place where people allow themselves to be alienated from their life's vocation by behavior and environmental factors that have little or nothing to do with their life's passion. It's also the time when people make rash choices simply to relieve themselves of the numbing mindlessness. I have watched people take new jobs for which they were ill suited, or retire prematurely, for example, only to find themselves in a place just as uncomfortable as the one that they have left. The results are never pretty.

In most cases, there are spiritual choices that can be made that will either minimize the factors that contribute to this sense of frustration, or help us to navigate it.

Employers can identify the tasks that are at the heart of the job that needs to be done and eliminate as many of the distracting, bureaucratic demands possible. They can choose people they trust, set healthy, explicit goals for the work that needs to be done and get out of the way. It's important to check in, assess the progress being made, and communicate honestly when the work being done doesn't meet the goals. But distrust and micromanaging are just as soul-killing as they are unproductive.

When challenges confront a workplace, it's time to enlist the people you work with in strategic conversations about how to address the problems as part of a shared effort. Ignoring the complexities an organization faces—throwing numbers and goals at the people with whom you work—are not about truth-telling. And there is nothing strategic about it. Language of that kind is abusive and mindless. Worse yet, it robs your organization of the good will and engagement that the average employee would offer in the effort to address the challenges you face.

The first person plural ("we") is stronger language than the second person singular ("you"). Strategic thinking is more likely to contribute to the solution of a problem than reactive thinking (no matter how late in the game it might be). And mutual problem solving is always more likely to succeed than the Jean-Luc Picard school of leadership that lives by the words, "Make it so."

Those who work in places where leaders fail to do the kinds of things I have described have fewer choices, but they do have choices:

Look for the job within the job that corresponds more deeply with God's call on your life. Every job has its drudgery and some have an unnecessary number of distractions. But there is often a job within the job that feeds your sense of a God-given vocation. Give yourself to those efforts as often as possible.

As much as possible and as quickly as possible, let go of the things that annoy you. That isn't easy. But when we focus on that handful of things that frustrate us, their power to undermine the joy we find in the work we do is magnified.

In the same vein, let go of unrealistic expectations. A good friend of mine observed years ago, "There are infinitely more leadership roles out there than there are leaders." Don't expect people who can't lead to lead. They might one day, but they probably won't. And coming up hard against the distance between your expectations (however fair) and their capacity for leadership (which is likely limited) is a waste of time. (This is not to say that some working environments are not impossibly abusive. Some are. But until you are realistic, it is difficult to know whether it's time to move on.)

Even more importantly: Remember, you can still be a force for redemptive good. We tend to believe that leaders are the measure of an institution's value and the good it does. More often than not the good done in any institution is done by many, many others, most of whom lack the titles that would suggest that they provide leadership for anything. Don't be co-opted and drawn off target by soul-killing leaders. Focus on the God-given vocation that is your life and trust in the goodness of that gift.

If none of that fails to address the disaffection, it may be time to move on. But if so, take it slowly. Find work or activity that resonates more deeply with God's call on your life. One of the most common mistakes that people make is that they fill in the neutral zone between jobs with the first one that they can find. Those choices are almost always the wrong ones.

Remember, it's not just about work. It is about the gift of God in you.

5/29/2011 4:00:00 AM
  • Mainline Protestant
  • The Spiritual Landscape
  • Vocation
  • Leadership
  • Mainline Protestantism
  • Christianity
  • Frederick Schmidt
    About Frederick Schmidt
    Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: http://frederickwschmidt.com/