Episode 3: What Am I Supposed To Do? Defining Success For a Purposeful Life - Nicholas Pearce
It's easy to go through life on autopilot. We're told we should go to school, get a good job, and enjoy ourselves. But at some point, you may find yourself wondering about the purpose of it all. Why do you do what you do? And what do you do now? Having a definition of success can help you answer these questions. How you define success can guide how you live every day and the decisions you make. So how do you define success? With guest Dr. Nicholas Pearce, author of The Purpose Path: A Guide to Pursuing Your Authentic Life's Work.
Genesis 12: 1-3
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
Matthew 25:23 (NKJV)
His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
Jeremiah 29:11 (AKJV)
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, said the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.
Additional Resources Referenced
The Purpose Path: A Guide to Pursuing Your Authentic Life's Work by Nicholas Pearce
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Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.
Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work
LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.
MR: I’m Mark Roberts
LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.
LA: It's easy to go through life on autopilot. We're told we should go to school, get a good job, and enjoy ourselves. But at some point, you may find yourself wondering about the purpose of it all. Why do you do what you do? And what do you do now? Having a definition of success can help you answer this question. How you define success can guide how you live every day and the decisions you make. So how do you define success?
With us today to talk about defining success is Dr. Nicholas Pearce. Nicholas is an award-winning manager and organizations Professor at Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, he's the founder and CEO of the Vocati Group, a global executive advisory firm, and assistant pastor of Chicago's historic Apostolic Church of God. He's also the author of The Purpose Path: a Guide to Pursuing Your Authentic Life's Work.
Dr. Nicholas Pearce, welcome to the show.
Nicholas Pearce: Leah, Mark, thank you so much for having me.
LA: Thank you, thank you so much for being here. So the first question I wanna ask you in your book, the first step you ask people to take is to define success, why is it so important to define success?
NP: This is a critical question. This defining success because it is the question against to which the rest of our lives are built. It is the question of how do we keep score in life and thus how are we trying to score points. Many of us are using society's definitions of success as our metrics. We're thinking about larger homes, larger cars, faster cars, more cars. All these sorts of things that are quite fleeting that we use to measure our success vis-à-vis other people when in actual fact I believe God is not calling us to be successful by a worldly metric or standard but rather calling us to be faithful. And the question then becomes to faithful to what? And the answer I believe is faithful to the work that God has assigned to our hands, to know Christ and to make Him known, and to bring glory to God in the unique ways that we are gifted and opportunities are created for us to do so. That means that we have to create a definition of success that is certainly God inspired and God informed. But also one that is all our own. It is one that will define how we climb the ladders we climb and which ladders we choose to climb and making sure that those ladders are leaning against the right walls. It's a fearful thing, Leah.
NP: And what I've seen in many of the leaders I've had the opportunity to work with is that they were successful in climbing ladders, quickly, but those ladders were leaning against the wrong walls, they spent so much time trying to score points on other people's metrics and they were successful in doing so, but one day they woke up and looked at themselves in the mirror and recognized that against the scorecard of their own soul, they had done absolutely nothing. And so this question of “What is success?” hopefully provides a foundational basis, upon which to understand our life's work and ultimately pursue it.
LA: And you're obviously so passion... I hear the passion in your voice when you talk about this, but this is such a counter-cultural message, redefining success, what made you come to the realization that you had to re-define success. Was there some moment in your life that you had to re-define your own success?
NP: There had been many moments where I've had to really clarify why am I doing what I'm doing? Even with the book project, the Purpose Path book has been fairly well-received, in its first several months, but even the temptation to get caught up in the numbers game and the metrics that the publisher may have and the metrics that the New York Times may have and recognizing that while those metrics are important, and they matter, that none of them should be powerful enough to displace the reason why I did this in the first place. Alright, so keeping the main thing the main thing, is something that is always top of mind.
But an earlier example of this that really resonated in terms of motivating me to write this book was a critical crossroads during my PhD program at Northwestern, the PhD in Management, and organizations much as many other doctoral programs is designed to prepare you for a life of scholarship. The idea is that at the end of the program, you will say, I'd like to be a tenure-track professor just like you and please grant me this PhD, so I can become one of you. And that is certainly the goal, to recreate young scholars, young professors out of those programs. Yet, I recognized maybe two or three years in that the tenure track professorship path was not the path for me, because I recognized that in academia, there is a relentless pursuit of more, just as is the case in many corporations in other environments. No matter what you've accomplished, it's never enough. The question is always, what have you done for me lately, what more could you have done for me if you were not encumbered? What more could you have done for me if you were more efficient? And I saw this ceaseless striving that was really quite toxic, and I saw the tenure-track as a six or seven or eight-year pathway to potentially possibly get a very subjectively granted lifetime job appointment as a professor. And I recognize that that was not something that God was calling me to do.
The security of tenure while alluring was not something God was asking me to pursue in order to be faithful to my call. So I had to wrestle then, with what path to take to be faithful to what he had given me to do, but also be able to complete my program. Because in the meantime, as you mentioned, I'm also a pastor, and so I recognize that my doctoral life was not to be competitive with ministry but rather in service of ministry, so I knew then that these two parts of my life had to be able to not just co-exist, but be mutually enriching and mutually beneficial to the other. So, I knew a tenure-track professorship where I'm putting my life essentially on hold for maybe seven years would have literally taken me out of pastoral ministry because the perception would have been that I was so busy doing pastoral ministry that I was not committed to the craft of academia and thus unworthy of tenure, so I knew that path was not for me.
The question became, What path is? And I was really, really worried and nervous because I knew the expectations that had been laid out, and ultimately, I hit this moment of decision, where I was in the hallway one day minding my business, and my advisor comes out of the elevator bank and says, "Oh hey, Nicholas, you got a minute?" And those who have been in graduate school, or even those who are in the workplace, can attest to the nervousness that seizes your soul when your manager asks you for a blindside impromptu meeting. You have no clue what's about to happen. And so, I go into this meeting and my professor, her name was Kathy Phillips, she says, "Nicholas, you're making pretty good progress through the program. You are writing well. You're asking the right questions. And so, this is favorable." So, okay this is a good conversation so far. When is the shoe going to drop?
And ultimately, she said, "I know, however, that you're not just a scholar. You're also a pastor. I've seen you preach on television, so I know what I'm talking about. You're good at this. When are you going to acknowledge that you are good at both, for yourself?"
NP: And so, there was this moment where I was gripped with fear, wondering whether or not the next sentence to come out of her mouth would be, "Therefore, we are gonna dismiss you from this program without your doctorate so you can go live your best life." I got worried, and thankfully, what came out of her mouth next was, "We need to figure out a way for you to make good in the areas that you are uniquely designed to be in. We need you in the academy, but we also recognize that you are needed in your church community, and so we need to figure out a career trajectory that will allow you, essentially, to score points against your definition of success, uniquely, even if they do not measure up as success on someone else's." And that conversation ultimately led to the work that I'm doing now, the creation of a clinical professorship for me to focus on teaching and to focus on public scholarship and to focus on writing, but also given me the flexibility to serve our faith community as assistant pastor.
So that was a critical crossroads, where I had to recognize that my definition of success was broader than others and was not going to neatly fit into any single box; that my vocation was much broader than a single career track.
MR: That's such a great story. Nicholas, what a great thing that your doctoral advisor was able to see you in your distinctiveness and affirm that. I'm impressed.Your mentor was seeing you, so clearly.
NP: Been a tremendous blessing, and Kathy and I are still in touch to this day, and she literally just this past weekend, was awarded by the Academy of Management with a prize in recognition of her outstanding mentorship. So it is not just me who had benefited from her genius. She has been incredibly generous and liberal, shaping the lives and careers of people all across the world in our field.
LA: So this is... It's so fascinating 'cause you coach people, and help them redefine success for their life. So how do you help these people, people in the workplace come up with a new definition of success for themselves?
NP: The coaching work that I do is really an extension of my pastoral ministry. It relies on the same set of skills that are required for good pastoring, listening very carefully and actively to people, having genuine interest in their stories, listening for the threads, understanding their joys and their fears, assessing their gifts, and ultimately giving them the encouragement to listen for the voice of their caller. Or as Parker Palmer puts it, listening for the voice of vocation. So the coaching work that I do is really a listening work, and it's really quite enjoyable to be able to listen to people and see where they have been encumbered, where they have been encouraged, and ultimately point to opportunities that could be theirs and see what resonates in their spirit. I tell each of them, even if they are a corporate titan that has not a theologically inclined bone in their body. I tell them, "The real you is not just your body, the real you is the part of you that is not visible. And so I'm speaking to that part of you right now. And I want you to listen very carefully and tell me if any of these things resonates as, 'Oh, obviously, yes.'" 'Cause usually when we receive insight from the Lord through someone else, it resonates with something that's already in our spirit. It's not strange, it's not new information usually. It may be new to our ears, but it's not new to our souls.
There's something that already resonates, that grabs us and says, "Yes," and pulls us forward. And I tell them to listen for that. And that is the signal that I have experienced of when God is speaking. God does not speak to me through my name being audibly heard. God has not put my name on a Goodyear blimp and flown it across the sky. I have heard God speak through moments of confirmation that have just resulted in deep affirmation and confirmation that this is exactly where God would have you to be. There's just a deep sense of knowing. No audible or visible miraculous presentation, just a deep sense of knowing that God is speaking and that God is pleased with my hearing in that moment. And I encourage my executives to do the exact same. And it really takes them on a discipline of connecting with the voice of the Holy Spirit. 'Cause ultimately, whether someone knows who Jesus is or not, the Holy Spirit is operating in that person's life, certainly to draw them to Christ with the loving kindness of God. But also to orient their lives and the circumstances in which they find themselves in such a way where they will recognize who they are in Christ.
MR: So, Nicholas I'm struck by what you've said about listening both in terms of listening to people in the way in which that's fundamental to your work as a pastor and your work as an organizational consultant and a mentor to people, and also the way that overlaps with your talking about your faith and really learning to listen to God and God's guidance. And as you talked about the listening, it sort of goes both directions, so it's listening to people, but also learning to listen to the Lord who doesn't speak to many of us as audibly for example, as he once spoke to Moses and yet who does speak to us in ways that we can learn to pay attention to.
NP: No question. And that's really why the book "The Purpose Path" does not give a lot of prescriptions for what to do to know your purpose by the end of the book and circle your purpose at the bottom of the last page on a multiple choice quiz, but rather provides a series of questions that can guide ongoing reflection through various stages of life, whether you're talking about an 18 year old or 17 year old in high school, who's trying to figure out next steps and what they wanna be when they grow up or someone who's in college or in graduate school or in the first part of their career asking, "Is this my life's work or am I dying every day just to make it in the door? Is a part of me being sacrificed just to show up here at work? Am I being inauthentic? Am I wearing a mask just to fake it through the day?" Or people who are in their mid-career stages who have achieved a modicum of success but are asking, "Is it significant? Does it really count? Is this the work that was mine to do or was I just playing against someone else's scorecard?" Or even people who are in what scholars are calling the third third of life.
This is a set of questions that we can revisit over the balance of our lives.
MR: It's encouraging to hear that because I think there'd be folks who had read your book or whom you would work with who would say, "wow, I've achieved what I thought was success, but I'm not feeling fulfilled. I'm not feeling as if I'm actually doing what it is I'm supposed to be doing in life." And I realized this is a big piece of your work. But when you've got somebody, whether it's a young person in your church or a senior CEO and somebody says to you, "I don't think I'm tracking with my purpose. I don't think my success is what I want it to be." Where do you start with them?
NP: Well, I start with asking them what matters most to them. And they often times start reciting to me the key performance indicators that they have been given from a professional perspective. And I say, "Is this what wakes you up in the morning? What's your why? Have you discovered your why, your reason for being? Not your reason for doing, but your reason for being. You're a human being, not a human doing. What's your reason for being?" And that often pulls them into a much different kind of conversation that quite frankly, they have said, nobody has really tried to have with them, especially the high performers because people really don't care as much about their high-performers as people. They care about their high performers as doers. They care about their high performers in terms of the productivity that they bring, not the personhood that they bring.
So the very question itself, often engenders a breath of fresh air for them because they're not even used to thinking about their being. But ultimately we get to what makes them tick and what makes them really find a sense of meaning and purpose. And then I ask, "Are you able to use this career as a platform to accomplish that? If not, then perhaps this is an opportunity for you to shift." And this is not saying that everyone has to quit their job tomorrow. Not everyone is in that luxurious position where they can call it quits tomorrow and be able to put food on the table and keep their family in a home and all of these sorts of basic needs. So for those who may not be able to quite pull the trigger yet, the conversation shifts to how are you preparing for your calling?
This is where the word vocation comes into play. The word vocation has become co-opted into our society to be equivalent structurally to a blue collar profession. And while I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with blue collar professions, the reality is that vocation is not simply a trade or craft. Vocation is one's life's work. It is one's calling, a course of action for which one is uniquely well suited, coming from the Latin word for calling. So this is really pulling them into a different space. And if there is in fact a calling, the next question is, well, who's doing the calling?
God is the one who I believe created us and fashioned us with purpose. And if we wanna understand why we were made and why we have survived all of the crazy vicissitudes of life that have caused others to call it quits. Why is it that we have been able to survive the diagnoses that took others out? Why is that we were able to survive the divorces, the firings, the foreclosures, the evictions, the ups and downs? How are we still here? What's the point? There's no one who can show us that but God, because God is the one who has sustained us through it. And if we are willing to listen for the voice of God calling us, I think God will speak. I don't believe that God is interested in playing practical jokes and cruel tricks to try to get people to chase after his voice. I believe firmly in the words of scripture when God says, "In the day you hear my voice, harden not your heart." Not strain your ear to check if it's me, but don't harden your heart. And the implication is if your heart is softened and available, you will hear God speak clearly. And if there's anything I can do in my coaching that allows people to discover the voice of God for themselves, it's a successful venture.
LA: Nicholas are there other scriptures that you point people to to help them redefine or start rethinking about their definition of success?
NP: Certainly, I love Proverbs 3:5 and 6. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not unto your own understanding in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path." That scripture is something that I have known by heart for decades, yet I get fresh revelation from it each time I meditate on it. Because each day that we make the wake-Up list and God blesses us to have breath in our bodies, it's another opportunity to trust in the Lord, to not trust our own understanding, to acknowledge Him so that everyone understands no matter what accolades we have amassed to our credit, ultimately the glory belongs to God. Acknowledge Him in all of our ways and He will direct our path. God is trusting us each day with fresh direction for our path and many of us want God to give us more and more direction, but we haven't followed yesterday's direction yet. We are so focused on getting to our next chapter that we have not really been faithful in our now Chapter. And I believe the word of God is true.
If we are gonna be ruler over many, we must first be faithful over the few. And what I'm seeing in many of my millennial peers is this relentless pursuit for what's next in an impatience that is born out of everything being voice-activated and within fingertip reach. But the reality is, the kingdom of God does not operate with an elevator, it operates with a staircase. And each step of faith unlocks the next piece of revelation. You don't need the entire picture because quite frankly, if God showed us the whole thing some of us would ruin the script way back in chapter two. We don't need the entire manuscript, we just need enough to get us off the page we're on, out of the sentence that we're currently in. If we can make God look good as we go through where we are, God will certainly handle making us look good on the back end, all for His glory.
MR: Yeah. As you said that Nicholas has reminded, of course, of Abraham. Well Abram at the time, Sarai who, were told to go to a place that God would show them. So all they pretty much knew is they had to leave and the rest was gonna be unfolded. And I think, in my own life, there is... Oftentimes I wish God laid out the whole plan. Now chances are, actually if I knew it, that would be a problem. But it's learning to trust, learning to listen, and learning for each step, and I appreciate your encouragement there, because I think sometimes a lot of folks get frozen because they don't know the whole plan yet. And maybe they're trying to wait around and figure it out or wait for it to be revealed or to discover some profound passion in them that will guide their whole life, and it isn't coming. And so rather than taking the few steps that they know, they're stuck waiting for the whole thing to be revealed, and I think...
NP: That's right, you are awakening the preacher in me, Mark, because there are so many places in the Scriptures where we see that the destination is not what's most important, but rather the journey. There are so many things that God desires to do with us on the journey that will bring us to the destination but ultimately can be disentangled from the destination. So many people love to quote Jeremiah 29 and 11. "... I know the thoughts I think toward you' says the Lord, 'thoughts of peace and not of evil, to bring you to an expected end.'" Yet He is the one who put them in exile on the way to this expected end.
NP: There is a purpose in exile. Think about Jesus on his way to Jairus' house and on His way He encounters a woman with an issue of blood, who reaches out and receives her healing while He's on His way. Jesus is on His way from point A to point B and on the roadside is a man named "blind Bartimaeus," who is on the roadside begging, and then he sees Jesus and he cries out, "Son of David, have mercy on me." And his blinded eyes are opened. On their way to afternoon prayer, at the temple, Peter and John, in the Book of Acts Chapter 3, encounter a man who was lame from birth by the gate called Beautiful. Yet, while they were on their way, the man was not their destination, the temple was their destination, but on their way they encountered this man, and Peter says to him those immortal words, "Silver and gold have I none, such as I have give I unto thee, in the name of Jesus rise up and walk." Changed this man's whole life with the power of Jesus Christ, while they were on their way.
NP: And so one of the messages God has made quite clear to me, as I continue to travel across the country on this Purpose Path tour, is to take the burden off of people shoulders, to think that they have to have everything figured out, and that they have to have the destination clear in the GPS from the beginning. And instead just trust God with each step, knowing that the step is not just toward a promised destination, but that there is purpose in the step, and if we're open to seeing God work on us, in us, and through us while we're on our way, God will get the glory from our lives. And that's truly what this is all about, knowing Christ, making Christ known, bringing glory to God while contributing to the good of our brothers and sisters in humanity.
MR: Well, amen to the preacher party, Nicholas, I love that. And I wanna circle back to one thing, you brought it up earlier, when we were talking about a calling, vocation. And having read your book, I know you have some real thoughts on this, but you were mentioning family, and family as a priority in terms of purpose. I know what you think about that, but I think it'd be great for our listeners to hear a little bit. How do you factor in in your own life and experience and thinking family and the role of family when it comes to your purpose?
NP: I think a lot of people have the misconception that the significance of one's life is equivalent to the scale of one's reach. And that in order to have lived a significant life one must have global reach, one must have a blue check mark next to their name on social media, that they must have 100,000 or more followers, and that they must be traveling the world over in order for their life to have comment. But I've encountered a lot of people who have lived lives that, from an external view, have been incredibly successful. They are publicly successful, but they are private failures. They come home, and while they have received the applause of people beyond the doors of their home, the people inside the walls of their home cannot stand them because they are living one thing outside and another way inside. I believe that one can make a huge difference with their life just by starting with the people inside their home. Starting with the people who are in their sphere of influence.
NP: All ministry, in my estimation, and certainly the Bible backs this up, all ministry begins at home. The Bible is very clear in telling those who would lead in church, that if you have not governed your house well, how are you going to govern the house of God? So there is certainly an extent to which we have to look at success and faithfulness in view of the fundamental unit of society, which is not the individual, but the family. And so I do everything I possibly can to make sure that my wife and my son know, without a shadow of a doubt, that they will never have to compete for my affection, for my energy, or for my time with an organization that is allowing me to do my life's work, because while the organization may love me today, it can chew me up and spit me out tomorrow, and where will I be heading? Home. So I do everything I can to let my wife and my family know that even though my work involves a lot of speaking and caring for other people and traveling and serving others, that my first priority, after the Lord himself, is them.
LA: This is such a great conversation and I really... I have to say, I really resonate with the joint pulls of work and family and trying to figure out what is your actual scorecard in there, right? Because your job has one scorecard and maybe the school committee has another. There are just so many scorecards facing us in the different vocation and the different callings that we have in our life. I'm just thinking back to this pivotal moment that I had in my life a few years ago, I had been a stay-at-home mom for five years, and I thought, "This is it, this is all I'm probably ever gonna do is hang out with these kids forever." And then I got a gig, a one-Sunday gig, I get to be a guest preacher, one Sunday. I'd tell a good message one Sunday, and then I said, "This is it, I'm gonna be a stay-at-home mom, but a weekend preacher, and this is gonna be my calling, and everyone's gonna listen to me." And then I was totally off in my own fantasy world about this perfect job for me.
And then that evening a colleague at church called me up and said, "I actually have this little job that you might be interested in part-time. Would you do some editing for our website, would you do just like a little bit of writing on the side for our website?" And I was like, "One, that's not being like the Pinterest-worthy stay-at-home mom, and that's not my fantasy of being a world-class speaker, and I'm traveling all the world and everyone listens to me. I'm just gonna do some web editing." And when I checked in with my husband and my family and our own personal scorecard, I thought, "Actually, maybe, Leah, that's the perfect job for you. You can do it for a few hours a week and also be available to your family." And don't you know it? I started that little web editing job, and it turned out to be the best thing in my life. It turned out to really be the thing that balanced the scorecard for me. That gave me a different sense of accomplishment and a different sense of being valued and a different sense of being involved in the world. And that job turned into the job, the awesome job that I have today, speaking to you guys on this podcast and writing articles that go up on the... Yeah. I mean, it's just you never know, you never know what God has for the next step.
NP: That's right. That's right. I'm so encouraged to hear your story, Leah, because so many organizations are complicit in our diminishment. Everybody has a scorecard. Everybody's got plans for you. Everybody's got an idea of how you fit into their scheme, yet there comes a moment where you have to recognize while that sounds really wonderful and this dream could be amazing, you have to check in with who you authentically are and what matters most and have the courage to align what you're doing with your days, with what you believe God is calling you to do with your life. That's an idea I talk about quite a bit in The Purpose Path, an idea that I have tagged vocational courage. Vocational courage is all about having clarity on what your calling is and then having the commitment to do something about it, to connect your soul with your role and align your daily work with your life's work.
MR: It's such a good word. And let me put in also a good word on The Purpose Path for our listeners. When I read that book, Nicholas, I sensed the different parts of you talked earlier, in that clearly you have expertise in organizations and leadership, and that is a strong suit for you. And yet also just such a solid theological foundation for how to think about life and leadership and organizations and purpose. But then I also really felt the scientist in you in the sense that you are such a clear and organized writer. And sometimes folk who are writing in a business context or whatever, they circle around and they take a hundred words to say what could be done in 10. I really was sensing your MIT roots even in this very personal and theological and an organizational book. So I just wanna encourage our listeners as they have listened to this conversation, there is so much more.
NP: I really appreciate that, Mark. I recognize that if God does not do the talking through the words on the page, it will have all been in vain. But I have been truly encouraged by the stories of people who I have met from all walks of life who have shared with me how The Purpose Path has called them off of autopilot and made them really carefully listen about how to make their lives count in ways that they were afraid to imagine, but are so glad that they have.
LA: Nicholas, Some of our listeners have said there's so much pressure, and this is especially true for people who are starting off their careers or early in their careers, there's so much pressure to get the right career, like there's one magic bull's-eye that you gotta hit. There's only one thing that I can do that's gonna fulfill me and exploit all of the gifts that God has given to me. How do you help people rethink that kind of pressure?
NP: I think we should certainly be caring about what it is that we do every day. God does care about how we steward our time and our gifts. However, I think a lot of that pressure is around control. How can I control this for the glory of God? We try to spiritualize it really well, Leah. How do I control my life for God's glory? And ultimately, God is less concerned about you having control. In fact, God is ultimately concerned with us having enough faith in Him, whereby we don't have control, and that's a scary proposition. I am by no means attempting to suggest that this is child's play and elementary. However, a lot of that pressure is really around control and perfection, and I don't think that God is calling us to be perfect in that way. God is calling us to be faithful. So putting one foot in front of the other and trusting the Lord with what we've been given, making some of the difficult decisions that are necessary, to be faithful to what's on our hearts today. As I mentioned earlier, you couldn't have told me when I was 18 that chemical engineering was going to prepare me to be a management professor, an entrepreneur, and a pastor.
If you had told me that, I would have said, "Well, let me take a straighter path," like the children of Israel in the wilderness. Like, "Let me do the week-long route, not the 40-year route. I know a better way to get there." Yet God has a way He takes us, and He calls us to walk that way so that we can develop the character and the trust in Him that will sustain us when we get to that place. So instead of being worried about landing the dream job or landing that one lifetime role, focus more on being faithful to what's in front of you. Does this mean that perhaps you need to get some different educational training to prepare you? Possibly. Does it mean you need to seek mentorship to prepare you in ways that you're currently not prepared? Maybe. Does it mean that you need to look for stretch assignments in your current role to be able to get exposure that you currently aren't getting? Possibly. Because at the end of the day, anytime God calls us to do anything, the call is first a call to preparation.
God certainly had work for Saul to do, and so Jesus encounters him on the road to Damascus. But the first thing that Paul does once he is called is not write the letter to the church at Galatia. Paul goes into Arabia for several years in obscurity and prepares and is formed. God is interested in our formation, not just our productivity. And ultimately, for those who are younger in years or more advanced in years, young in heart, whatever your designation may be, at the end of the day, the pressure that we should be focusing on most is the pressure to please the Lord. And ultimately, God is not calling us to please him out of pressure. Jesus calls us to take His yoke upon us, His yoke is easy, His burden is light. He calls us into a life where we can lay aside our ceaseless striving and never having done enough fast enough, or being good enough or fast enough or tall enough or short enough, whatever the case, we're not enough.
Yet in Him, we are enough because we have Christ within us, the Hope of glory, and greater is He who is in us than he that is in the world. In Christ we are enough because of the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary and 'cause of the power of the Holy Spirit. And if we live each day on assignment recognizing that someone didn't wake up. And the reason why we are on the wake up list is because God has marching orders for us today. If we wake up with that sensitivity, it takes the pressure off of us because we didn't call ourselves. The pressure comes when we think we are responsible for everything. But when we recognize that all we're responsible for is yielding to the Holy Spirit, it makes things a lot less complicated. It's not by might, it's not by power, it's not by degree, it's not by tax bracket, it's not by bank account. "It is by My Spirit," says the Lord.
LA: It is. It's a good word. Thank you so much Nicholas. I'm gonna give us... I'm gonna give each of us just one last sentence because we always get a closing question. So I'm gonna let each of us answer one question, 'cause I was so inspired by what you just said. And my question is, if you could sum up your definition of success for yourself in one sentence, what would it be? And I'll go first since I asked the question. And I think, inspired by you just now, Nicholas, my new definition of success for myself is... My definition of success is being prepared to experience the surprises that God has for me in store each day in my work. How about you, Mark?
MR: So I would say success for me is being faithful in stewarding all that God has entrusted to me. And Nicholas reminds me and reminds us that that's not just my work for hire, if you will, that's all of my life, including my family and relationships. But to steward well all the gifts and opportunities and relationships God has given faithfully, that would be success for me.
LA: That's beautiful.
NP: Mark, you stole the words right out of my mouth.
MR: Well, I read your book.
NP: Thank you for saying so. But truly, my approach to success is all about faithful stewardship of what God has given, the grace that He has given, the opportunities, the favor, the influence, the access, all of these are resources, whether they are social or material, that God has entrusted, certainly spiritual resources. And so to be able to be counted as a faithful steward of what God has given such that at the end when I close my eyes and shuffle this mortal coil, I will hear my Savior say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
LA: Well, Nicholas, well done on our podcast today. We can say that to you right now, at least that piece of it. Thank you so much for joining us today.
NP: Leah and Mark, thank you so much. I have really enjoyed this conversation.