“Right now, in your family, in your class, in your little company you have a leadership opportunity… What are you going to stand for?”
Chris Lowney is a former Managing Director of J.P. Morgan, one-time Jesuit Seminarian, noted author, and Chairman of the Board of Catholic Health Initiatives, one of the nation’s largest hospital systems with $19 billion in assets. Through his every endeavor, Chris’ life and story demonstrate how extraordinary leadership begins with everyday opportunities.
I have heard it said that success is having what you want, whereas fulfillment is being happy with what you have. I guess I would see a lot of wisdom in that cliche. For me, “success at work” is something that I would generally define by the typical standards of a workplace: to develop competence in one’s field, to be recognized for one’s competence, to rise to a level of some authority…. But here’s the deeper question: is that kind of success ultimately very important? It is very easy to get sucked onto the treadmill of pursuing success, and it can be really dangerous to fall into this. And, what’s more, no matter how much you succeed, you will always be able to conceive some greater level of success you haven’t reached.
So, bottom line, I think it is really important to develop one’s own internal standard of what is a “fulfilled” life, or a “meaningful life” or a “life of purpose,” or whatever form of that phrase is most engaging to one. That’s why I began my answer with the distinction between success and fulfillment.
I find purpose in different ways. Sometimes the cause or mission itself is very compelling and really speaks to one’s values and beliefs. For example, one who is doing work that “clothes the naked,” “heals wounds,” or “teaches the young” and so on… A different way in which I have sometimes found work purposeful is when it uses my unique gifts really well, and I feel as if I am really flourishing and having the chance to develop the gifts I have been given by God. Another way in which I have found purpose is when work enables me to develop the talents of subordinates and interact with peers in a way that somehow lifts them up.
Now let me say this: this is earth, not heaven. I think it is rare when people find work that delivers purpose on ALL of those levels, all at the same time: in other words, the mission is great, it really draws on one’s talents, and it really enables one to develop the talents of subordinates or peers. I think the reality of work in this fallen world is that we rarely get the opportunity to have 100% fully meaningful work lives on every level, and part of humanity is accepting that reality of the human condition.
I’m not sure how satisfying my answer will be to some who read it. I worked for a long time in an industry (investment banking) and in a city (New York) that tends to be very secularized in its business culture. So how does one witness in a workplace like that if explicitly sharing one’s beliefs with others is not really acceptable in the culture? I understood it this way: the values championed by Jesus are ones I can practice all day long in the workplace—I could be just in my dealings, treat others as uniquely dignified, be charitable in trying to help colleagues in need, and a hundred other things. Many of my colleagues might not of known of my specific beliefs, but the goal for me would be that if it became known to someone what my beliefs were, they might say to themselves, “aha! I knew there was something about that guy, but I never quite understood what it was that inspired him to behave that way. Now I know….”
Last thing on this point: I also think it is important for people who work in these kinds of environments where explicit sharing of beliefs is not commonplace, that they find some support group or community of like-minded folks, ideally working in the same industry if not the same company, and get together regularly for fellowship and prayer and what I would call a “reality check,” in other words, hashing through ethical dilemmas that may be coming up at work and getting the opinion and input from the support group in order to keep oneself on track and headed in the right direction.
Well, a lot! One is simply that the modern workplace demands lots of focus and attention, and it is easy to get so wrapped up in the activities of work that one is forgetting to pray, forgetting even to think about one’s beliefs, and so on. A second challenge is that, in many industries nowadays, there can be incredible opportunities to make lots of money, to rise through the hierarchy quickly, to create a really nice lifestyle for oneself and be admired for one’s success, and so on—well, there is nothing wrong with all that, BUT that can easily become the breeding ground for greed, pride, envy, self-centeredness, and lots of other values that are exactly the opposite of what our values should be as followers of Jesus.
So this second challenge is, in a sense, to be “in the world but not of the world, ” to be able to perform in these workplaces without giving in to the temptations these workplaces can present. Now, I spoke about challenges, but let me also say there can be great opportunities: the workplace presents a great opportunity, everyday, to live according to the values Jesus champions and to influence others by one’s role modeling and example.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”