Find Meaningful Work in a Changing World - Michaela O’Donnell
The world of work is changing. For most people, long gone are the days when you could learn a single trade and apply those skills for the rest of your lifetime. The uncertainty of work today may leave you anxious and asking, how can I find meaning in my work? Or more to the point, can I find meaning and make money? Dr. Michaela O'Donnell is the Executive Director of The Max De Pree Center for Leadership. Her book, Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World, a how-to for finding meaningful work in a changing world, combines her experience as an entrepreneur with her academic training in practical theology. She's going to help us connect the dots between meaning, work and money.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (NRSV)
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (NRSV)
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears[a] listen!”...“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (NRSV)
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (NRSV)
Additional Resources Referenced
Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World, by Michaela O'Donnell
Thanks for Listening!
If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us.
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: The world of work is changing. For most people, long gone are the days when you could learn a single trade and apply those skills for the rest of your lifetime. The uncertainty of work today may leave you anxious and asking, how can I find meaning in my work? Or more to the point, can I find meaning and make money? Today's guest is the author of the latest how-to for finding meaningful work in a changing world. Dr. Michaela O'Donnell is the Executive Director of The Max De Pree Center for Leadership. Her book, Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World, combines her experience as an entrepreneur with her academic training in practical theology. Today, she's going to help us connect the dots between meaning, work and money.
Michaela O'Donnell, welcome to the Making It Work podcast.
Michaela O'Donnell: Well, thanks Leah, for that generous introduction. It's good to be with you and Mark today.
LA: So let me start, Michaela, by asking you just a framing question. How is navigating the world of work today different than it was 10 or 20 years ago?
MO: Yeah, that's a good question, Leah. So two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, I do a lot of speaking as part of my job, and so I'd go to different functions or be with people, and I would stand up in front of them and I would announce, "You all, the world of work has changed." And in those rooms, two, three, four years ago, people would sort of sigh this breath of relief, like, "Oh yeah, it has, hasn't it?"
LA: So people saw that as a good thing?
MO: Well, just naming it, it was like we were naming something that hadn't really been named quite like that, and change is very... I think we hold change in our bodies, in our minds, and so any time someone says, "Yeah, things are changing," it's a bit of a release for that holding that we're doing. But today, if I were to walk into the same room and tell people, "The world of work has changed dramatically in the last decade," I think people might say, "Yeah, it's changed dramatically in the last 18 months, and the sky is blue and our world has turned upside down." And what we've seen in the last couple of years is really an acceleration of many of the changes that were already in motion.
You go back a couple of decades, and this certainly isn't true for everybody and every industry, but it was more common that career paths were predictable. You'd get sort of the qualifications that you needed, you'd meet people, you'd get going in an industry, and if you were doing a good job, and the employer that you're working for was doing well enough, you might be able to sort of rise the ranks, right? Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn says, "It was a bit like an escalator," right?
But today and over the last decade, work is much less like riding up an escalator and much more like riding down a rapid river of whitewater rapids. And the last two years have made it like, "Okay, now we're in a rainstorm as we're going down that river," and people's career paths, and moves they make, and how they think about their work, and the money, and the meaning that you reference is very, very dynamic today. And that dynamic nature requires different mindsets, different base skills than a more static escalator-like economy.
LA: And has this been true, Michaela, for you personally, in your own work? Have you seen this rapid-like nature of change?
MO: Yeah, that's a good question, Leah. So today, you may be familiar with the terminology, the great resignation, or I've seen some people call it the great reassessment, or anywhere between 30% and 70%. The estimates vary quite widely, 30% and 70% of people are considering making a change in light of how things have happened in the last two years. I found myself, even though it wasn't named the great reassessment, I found myself in a similar wave back in 2008, 2009, 2010.
LA: You had your own great reassessment.
MO: Yeah, I had my own, and I think it was part of the great... There was a recession, and any time the economy changes, like what we've seen lately, this stuff happens. And so, I was a grad school student and my husband and I were both getting seminary degrees, and we graduated with those shiny degrees in hand and went out into the world of work and were met pretty quickly with the fact that a theology degree was not a very marketable skill in a recessed economy. People were like, "Yeah, how many words can you type per minute?" And it just... It was a rude awakening and a hard time to graduate school. And I come from a family of entrepreneurs and teachers, big Irish Catholic families in the Midwest, here in the United States. And there are two things that we do in my family most often, for work, we teach people things and we start businesses.
And so, it was my instinct, sort of cultivated instinct in that moment of not knowing what to do in the middle of a recessed economy, to start a business. And my husband is a very good support, so he went along with me, and we started a company that actually is still alive and very well today, it's called Long Winter Media. We do branding and video stuff. And it was through the starting of that company, through the one foot in front of the other, learning many of those dynamic world of work lessons for myself, that many of the ideas in this book were first birthed.
LA: Now, Mark, I wanna bring you into this conversation and get your kind of overview, big picture idea of how does this question of the way that work is changing, interact with our view of... God's view of work in the Bible. Neither the escalator analogy or the rapids analogy is really a biblical analogy. How would you think... What appropriate analogy would you give from the Bible to think about our career and work, Mark?
MR: That's a good question, and you're right, I don't think there's an escalator in the Bible. I don't think...
MR: I think that's good. So, I'll answer that.
LA: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember in my morning devotionals, covering the escalator part.
MR: Leah, I will answer your question, but before I do, I should disclose something that you know, but our listeners should know, that Michaela is my boss. That wasn't always true...
MO: It's true.
MR: I used to be her boss, but she's now my boss, and just saying, so with all due honesty and respect for our listeners, that doesn't really affect the quality of this conversation. It will be a good conversation, and I love having Michaela as my boss.
LA: So I won't ask any particular questions about how do you feel about... How does this interact with your feelings with your boss.
MO: Please do. Please do.
MR: Yeah, but your question, Leah, so from a biblical point of view, how might we think about work? And I think the most obvious answer there is in terms of really, farming, growing things, because of course, many, many people in the biblical world grew their own food. And so, farming was common and well-known. And of course, Jesus uses farming illustrations in His teaching, the parable of the sower and that sort of thing.
MR: And the farming illustration or the farming way of thinking about work, and it's, of course, very closely tied to fruitfulness, because if you're growing something, you want whatever you're growing to be fruitful, to produce whatever it is, to produce grapes or produce wheat or whatever. And so, I think from a biblical point of view, one of the things we'd wanna say about work is that we are created for it, we're created for fruitfulness. First command in scripture, "Be fruitful and multiply," so right at the very beginning. And that sort of sets up the framing. And then, in any different cultural context, historical context, that's gonna be worked out in different ways. So if we're all basically farming, we're gonna think about work and figure out how do we be ourselves, fruitful in life, in this context.
And in today's world, same questions, right? What does it mean to be fruitful in life and work? I was just talking with a group of young adults this last weekend about this, and one of the questions I got was, "Well, how do you figure in unemployment here?" Because in a changing world of work, there is often... Folks are often dealing with seasons of unemployment. So I think farming and fruitfulness gives us a good way to think about work. Not the only one, but a good way. And then whatever we're dealing with, we say, "Well, what's that gonna look like here, and how do we think about this? What does it mean for me to live a fruitful life in this changing world of work where the rules aren't what they once were?"
LA: Mark, you mentioned the Parable of the Sower, which is the beginning of Matthew, Chapter 13. And it's really about some work that some of it works out, some of it doesn't work out.
A man goes out to sow seeds in his field and some of it falls in the path and the birds eat it up, so there's a failure there. Some falls on rocky places, it springs up, but then it withers in the sun, like, there's another business failure. Only the seeds sown on good soil ends up working out. And that's a parable that Jesus uses to talk about communication and communicating the message of God to people, but it also depicts this climate that Michaela is talking about today, where a lot of the ventures that we pursue are maybe not gonna work out for us. Does this farming metaphor resonate for you, Michaela?
MO: Yeah, thank you. And Mark, even before you gave the analogy, I was thinking farming. That's the analogy. And there's something... I've been having conversations with leaders, actually, recently, on the fact that faithfulness precedes fruitfulness. And sometimes, to your point in the story about the sower, we don't actually know what the fruit is gonna be like. We might hope and we might imagine, but we're not sure. I'm reminded... I lived across the street from my grandmother, growing up, and when her legs and hands got a little bit too tired to dig in the soil, she was the director and I was the doer. And she would want me to move rose bushes six inches to the left and plant seeds over in the corner, and I didn't have any vision for what she was doing. In fact, I thought it sounded almost neurotic. In time, as the months passed and eventually as the years passed, I began to see that together, we were cultivating this extremely beautiful and full and fruitful garden, and that I just had this little part. I was just the mover of the rose bushes to the left and to the right, and the planter of the seeds and the digger. And so, the other reason why I love the biblical metaphor of farming, is just, it insinuates collaboration, it insinuates time, it insinuates rhythm. And so, I think that's just very helpful.
LA: Today, we've gotten in our economy, at least in the United States, very far away from an agrarian model of economics. We're very far away from the farming as a model of most of our work. We think it's kind of quaint, and that wraps this quaint-ness around some of our visions of Bible stories, where we maybe see the Bible as old-fashioned or not applying to today. How do you, Michaela, help connect the Bible to the very real issues that people face in the new world of work today?
MO: Well, I think that's a great question. So the new world of work, yeah, we're not as much in an agrarian age. We're not even as much in an industrial age. We're in what many scholars would call the information age. And the pace of the information age stands in stark contrast to the pace of the agrarian age.
And I actually think, in that, we have the invitation. So if we're not living in the same agrarian rhythm, then that kind of pace and boundaries, rest, expectation, fruitfulness, faithfulness to use some of Mark's words, those actually become the disruptors. Those actually become the distinctively Christian ways to engage in such a dynamic world.
LA: Well, my first thought is, "Oh my goodness, who has time for that? I gotta plant the seeds and then I'm not gonna know if they work until next season, like forget it." I was really on it with your rapids metaphor. That was kind of like the go getting that I'm interested in. [chuckle] And I think because I'm so affected by the pace of information, by the pace of technology, by the pace of which the technology in my pocket delivers information to me. And I even hear you, as you're speaking about the agrarian symbolism in the Bible, I hear your voice slowing down.
LA: I hear you getting more thoughtfulness. And tell me if that's even possible for most of us in the world of work today.
MO: Yeah, well, let me now draw a bit of a parallel between the two analogies. So Thomas Friedman writes great books on sort of the world as we know it, and trends that are starting to play out, and he talks about dynamic stability. Dynamic stability is actually imaged in a kayaker. It's about finding rhythm. If you are going down rapids and you're in a kayak and your oar is too steady, if it's not moving at the pace that matches things, then it actually becomes like a rudder and it turns you to the left or the right, potentially destabilizing you. If you are going too fast, if you are out of sync, then you are... You're kinda outta sync, you're kind of wildly going over things.
And the goal really here is to become in sync with the rapids, not so that you can be paddling harder and faster, but so that you can be riding down the rapids at the pace they're already going. To switch up the metaphor here, because I think it's helpful, my husband is a skier, and several years ago he and I got in a, actually, a pretty bad car accident. We were blind-sided, and we had one of those moments that, for any of you who have been in a car accident, you may have had this exact moment, time just seemed to slow all the way down. And there we were, having full sentences with each other while we were about to be hit, and he said to me, "Michaela, we're about to be hit, lean in and let go."
Well, I am not a skier, I did not lean in and let go. I tensed up. I tensed up for the impact. And to this day, I have residual pain from tensing up in the face of impact. And he has no pain because he leaned in and let go. And I asked him later, we talked about this a lot, "Dan, how did you... How could you, in that moment, that impact, you've got all this stuff coming at you?" The parallel here is in our world of change, there's a lot coming at us every day. I said, "Dan, how did you know to lean and let go?" And he said, "Michaela, I grew up skiing in Salt Lake City, Utah on the mountains," and this is like a black diamond, double black diamond, sort of gives me some anxiety to even think about the level of skiing that he used to do or that he still does. And he said, "On the mountain, you expect to fall, you expect it. It's built in. You expect to fall.
So one of the very first things to do on the very first day of ski school is they teach you how to fall." They teach you how to not brace for impact, but instead fall gracefully and harness the momentum of the mountain. And what usually ends up happening is that number one, you have less injuries, and number two, you more often land back on your feet. And that is a bit of what Thomas Friedman is talking about with dynamic stability. So there's a perspective change there, which is, what is my posture in the midst of so much change? There is. There's a bit of a slowing of the voice. My job is not to hustle, hustle, hustle today, but my job is to observe and notice and know how to engage. So whether we're calling back on the agrarian rhythms of biblical metaphors or we're looking to skiers on a mountain, or staying with this metaphor of a kayaker going down rapids, it's about understanding context, it's about aligning rhythm, honestly with the Spirit, right? So that's how I would work to merge the metaphors there.
LA: Could you give a solid example of the kind of difficulties I might face in my work today and how can I lean into that or how can I better prepare myself for the kind of bumps that I'm gonna hit?
MO: Yeah, I mean this... Leah, this hasn't happened to me since about an hour ago, so that's how common it is. Mark and I were in a meeting together this morning where we are being presented with some new technology that's available to us, and we were having to quickly sort through information, and ask questions, and build relationships with people, all at the same time. And all my brain could do is think, "I don't yet totally understand what we're doing here." And there was a part of my brain that was working very, very hard to try to make sense of that change. And then there was another part of my brain that was able to say, lean in and let go. Like this is another form of change that's coming at you. What might it look like to achieve dynamic stability? What might it look like to ride the wave of this momentum to engage, ask questions, but anticipate that the information that I need to know about this particular technological change in the way I do my work is going to evolve in time, and that I don't have to grasp all the information about how things are changing right this second.
So that story is a bit of a permission to not have to digest everything that's coming at me, because there's a lot that comes at us, and a lot of it is in the way of information and change and sometimes tough news and we wanna be active participants for hope and love and justice in the systems that we're part of, but our human brains can only digest what they can digest. So just this morning, I made the decision to kinda lean in and let go, and see if I could ride that momentum of change. And what that looked like very specifically was not having to have all the information today, but telling myself, "You're going to get it in time."
MR: So Leah, can I be permitted to throw in another biblical metaphor and ask Michaela to comment on it?
MR: Yeah. And now, in fairness, I read Michaela's book, so I kind of know, but she's got some really interesting things to say about this metaphor, and it's the metaphor of calling. And so again, there was a time... So my grandfather would be the perfect example of someone who shortly after college, went in to work for a certain company, and basically worked for the same company his whole life. During the Depression, he didn't for a season, but he went from a junior level to a very senior level, absolutely. And he would have talked about... He was a civil engineer and was responsible for the building of large buildings. He would have talked about this as his calling. His calling is to be this kind of worker in this kind of business. And Michaela has some different ways of talking about calling that I have learned from, from her. But I would love it, so Michaela, you wanna just sort of respond to that partly, how my grandfather thought and how you see scripture as giving us a really different framing of work in light of calling and callings.
MO: Yeah, thanks, Mark. Well, certainly not gonna go against anything your grandfather believed. I was raised in a household where we respect our elders.
MR: Yeah. [laughter]
MO: But like you, I actually find that a theology of calling gets very personal for people, very fast. And I think that in many ways, that's helpful, even as you said earlier, Mark, all the way back to the beginning, we get this calling to be fruitful in Genesis. And so, it makes sense that our identities are so woven in with this idea. And at the same time, because our identities are so woven in with this idea, our being, our doing are so connected, there's a lot of pain around the idea of calling. And so, in recognition of that pain, several years ago, I started to think a lot more about the theology of calling, what does the Bible say? What it doesn't? How does that make sense in our information age in different ways or in similar ways than in an agrarian age? My own example...
LA: Oh, no. I wanna interrupt because when you mention that pain, I think of a lot of our listeners who have written in, who are saying, "I can't find... " Like trying to find their calling as if it's like something they lost in their garage or like a treasure hunt or something like that, but we hear a lot of listeners say, "I haven't found the intersection of my skills and meaning and what I can do for money." And that is a real pain point, like the pain that you speak of is very real. So tell us how to navigate that.
MO: Well, quite honestly, what you describe right there is probably my major motivation for writing this book. I've sat with so many people who feel bad about themselves because they haven't found it, and feel confused about God because it hasn't been clear, and I just think that there's a lot more to this that is actually helpful and hopeful. And I actually think it's very important to start a little bit with some of the operative beliefs about calling that we hear in order to set those in contrast to some other biblical truths. When I... I teach at Fuller as part of my role at the De Pree Center, and I teach a class on vocation and calling and practices that help form people to be fit for God's callings, and on the first day of class I walk in and I say, "So what is calling anyway?"
And I get a lot of really fully, whole-hearted answers that are something like, "It's a job we love. It's the one career that I'm meant to do. It's the one special thing that only I can do." And I think the sensation of special-ness is contradictory to a biblical sense of calling and tees us up for a lot of disappointment. I do think that the pinnacle example of this is... And I wanna be careful how I say this, 'cause I mean this in kindness and gentleness, but seeing verses like Jeremiah 29:11 plastered all over graduation cards, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, and plans to give you hope and a future." We take a text that was for a people in pain, in exile, that were being... In many ways, in my view, reprimanded by God, but also told by God like, "Hey, I'm still with you. I'm gonna be with you. I'm not gonna break the covenant. I'm here." We take that passage that submits that larger story that's meant for a people who are really hurting, and we apply it to individual career paths. I think that just sets us up for a lot of disappointment, 'cause I don't think that that's meant for that.
So what's a healthier, more biblical... And you two are are experts in this too, so I'd love for you to add on to this, banter with it, whatever feels right. It's been helpful for me to think... I am an image-driven person, I'm a metaphor-driven person, so it's been helpful for me to think about calling kind of like a set of nesting dolls. And the very, very core nesting doll that we all share, by the way, is this call to faithfully follow and belong to Jesus. This is Matthew 4 stuff, right? Jesus calling of His disciples, "Hey, come follow me," and them, leaving their nets and taking step-by-step on a journey that they didn't know exactly where that was gonna lead, but that belonging and that following is very, very central.
The next nesting doll out would be what I would describe as the call to work toward redemption, restoration, reconciliation. I think this is evidenced in 2 Corinthians 5:16 through 21, where we get the call to be ambassadors in the ministry of reconciliation. We ought to be, as Christians, looking for places to sow goodness. If that's the seed that we're sowing is goodness and that we would expect that God... We would expect the fruit of that to play out in a variety of ways. The next layer out is a call to love and serve our neighbor, in loving service of our neighbor. And that, I think, actually goes all the way back to Genesis as Mark was describing. What kind of fruitfulness do we put in the world? I do think it's toward one another. And then also Luke 10 stuff, Good Samaritan. We're called to be interrupted on the way to where we're already going and attend to people that are in our midst.
And once you have some of those very, very core callings nested and set, then you can talk about the particulars. Particular places, people. Yes, sometimes jobs and roles that we're called to, but not limited to the context of paid work. So it's been helpful for me to just kinda get at those layers rather than set them out as kind of options, if you will.
And I talk to a lot of people that are frustrated with okay, "I haven't... " Just like you said Leah, "I haven't found the intersection of meaningful work or my skills and money, or I don't know my calling or it's just not quite happened yet." A couple things here. I think things take time. I really do. And I think that's where the farming analogy is actually very, very helpful. There is... I had a professor in college and my Greek professor, and I wasn't very good at Greek. I'm sorry, Mark, you probably are much better at Greek than I was, but we had two years of Greek and he would say, "Year one is root work and year two is fruit work."
There are seasons where we are sowing and there are other seasons where fruit is more evident. I think that's number one. Number two, I think that we have decided that work is a vehicle for a lot of self-actualization and happiness and fulfillment, and I'm with y'all that work is good and holy and sacred and comes very early on in our story. First story about God is, God is maker. So we know that work is good and there is so much opportunity for faithfulness there, and at the same time, it is not our sole vehicle to express our faithfulness to God's callings for us, and to conflate those two limits all the other opportunities that are in our lives. And then the last thing I'll say is, my husband's in film and a decade ago actually, just about a decade ago, he had a mentor say to him, "It's gonna take you 10 years to get where you think you should be today," and that felt like a punch in the gut, to be honest.
We were like woah, that's not fun. That's not encouraging. That's a lot of root work. That's a lot of sowing, and a decade later, I can say that he was right. He was very, very right. And now, looking out to the next decade, I have more confidence in that long arc of God's trajectory for all of us and each of us, and I would go back to another Exodus story here. I would go to the manna story, manna from Heaven. That story is very helpful for me in thinking about putting one foot in front of another, because the bottom line there is that God's gonna show up every day, and that you cannot store up more grace than you're ready for. You cannot store up more than is really ready to be taken on, and that's comforting. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other, you start looking back and realizing, eventually, maybe more is stacked up than you realize, and that this stuff takes time, and ultimately that's deeply encouraging.
LA: Now, something that I notice from these metaphors, Michaela, I'm still thinking of the nesting dolls and how they get bigger and bigger, and it's not a very... For lack of a better word, it's not a very sexy metaphor. It's not hip and young and fiery to think of my life as just kind of a nesting doll. [chuckle] I wanna jump right to the status and the shininess and the money, and also kind of have that be something that I'm allowed to do for God, because if I'm a Christian and really successful then I'm doing something for God.
And... Which I think... Let me say this more clearly, that's not something I believe to be good. Like a good way of going about things. I'm saying part of the temptation of our age is this idea that I could take this kind of flashy image of being a real high-powered success story and kinda spin it as being successful for God, because if I'm a Christian and also successful then God wins. And I think what you're advocating is a much more humble view of our own worth in the world. And that is at the same time comforting and also a little bit of a let down. I wonder if people you talk to feel both things at the same time. They feel like a, "Oh. Thank God, I don't have to work so hard." And they also might feel like a, "Oh, but I thought that God was gonna hit me out of the ball park with my career. And if I'm not holding on to that vision what am I holding on to?"
MO: Yeah. Yeah, I think that's wisely... The attention of that is wisely stated, Leah. And let me be clear, we... At the De Pree Center for Leadership, which is where Mark and I work, we do think that God is enabling, empowering and equipping Christians to have influence and leadership in industries far and wide. And we wanna steward that well. And so I do think there's an aspect of how to steward that that comes into question and sort of what you're getting at. And the platform building, the, "I have got to make X, Y, and Z happen by this timeline, and we've got sort of this checklist." That is exhausting in a way that is not sustaining. I think it's overwhelming in a way that's problematic.
And I think... And I'm saying these things now based... I'm literally having people flash through my mind as I'm talking. I think it's lonely, Leah. And so much of the world of work now is focused on how individuals can sort of do this kind of jocking up the... There's not one ladder, so it's like, from ladder to ladder to ladder to ladder, right? I think that's where there's an invitation to be a bit subversive there, and it's like... Okay, so returning all the way back to the metaphors that we were using, what if I'm not a solo person riding down white water rapids, what if I'm on one of those cool canoe trips and there's a whole group of us? Or what if I'm not just in my backyard planting my tomatoes, but what if I'm in a community garden?
And I think that there's some context. Some zooming out that happens with the kind of metaphors that we're talking about today that while I might feel like, "Oh, that's not as sexy or as shiny... " They feel more sustaining. And I'll now speak very personally. When I go after the status and accomplishments, 'cause I can do that, right? I'm an entrepreneur, I'm a leader, I like to have lots of accomplishments. I honestly don't notice, hear, or tune in to God nearly as much. And when I'm more centered on the people who are in my midst, my teammates, the people that... In this season, I really do feel called to serve. My family, my kids, my neighbors, my church community, others I casually engage with through the work week. I notice a lot more of God's activity. I see God at move a lot more. And that is good. That is fulfilling. And so that very fulfilling thing that I am trying to go after through my accomplishments, actually comes in slant when I turn and look at the person left and the person right of me. So yeah, maybe it's not as sexy, but I actually think it's a more effective and faithful way to go after that meaning and those desires that we've got nested within.
LA: I really resonate with that Michaela. And I have to say that when I go after the shinier prize for myself, even if I'm going after it with God, my prayers feel a little bit more narrow. You know when I'm, "God, make this podcast awesome. Make everyone who listens to this podcast think it's awesome." It feels like a very narrow band of prayer that God can either say, "Yay." Or, "Nay." But when my prayer is like, "Open me up to be a listener. May I connect with the people I'm talking to. God help me connect with the people who are hearing this. Help we connect to something bigger than myself and connect others." That feels like more of an expansive prayer that hits all the areas, all the desires that are nested within me, and not just the top level desire of to have my podcast be seen as awesome.
MO: Well, your podcast is awesome. Let me just be a cheerleader for you and Mark there. But just, Amen. Absolutely, Amen.
MR: That's great, what both of y'all said. It's just... I think it's really... That's the reframing we need for our work. And so, I'll add the "Amen" to what you've just said.
LA: Thank you, Mark. [chuckle] I appreciate your "Amen."
MR: Well, you know, really, just to tie the knot... And, Michaela... You sort of say, "This podcast will be awesome if we do the thing Michaela just talked about, right? In terms of attending to people, seeking to serve people, listening well to our guest, paying attention to our listeners." So if we just try to make it awesome, we probably will never get there. But if we focus on serving people and being faithful to what God's called us to do, it may very well become awesome, but as Michaela said earlier, that's not really our job, our job as being to be faithful and we'll leave the awesomeness to God and whatever God wants to do with what we're doing.
LA: Michaela O'Donnell thank so much for joining us today on the Making it Work podcast. Your book is Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in the Changing World. Thank you so much for joining us on this day of change. Thank you for being steady with us today.
MR: Yes indeed.
MO: Thank you both. I loved talking with you. And love what you're doing here.