Following God’s Lead Through a Career Change - Eli Jones
Whether you can't stand your job or just want to try something new, contemplating a career change can be intimidating. Dr. Eli Jones is a professor of Marketing, former Dean of Mays Business School, and Peggy May's eminent scholar in business at Texas A&M University. In his recent book, Run Toward your Goliaths, Dr. Jones shares about how faith helped him overcome his personal and professional giants to follow God's guidance in his work and career path. This included a career change as he switched from being a successful businessman to becoming a professor.
- 1 Samuel 17
Additional Resources Referenced
- Run Toward Your Goliaths by Eli Jones
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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.
Whether you can't stand your job or just want to try something new, contemplating a career change can be intimidating. Dr. Eli Jones is a professor of Marketing, former Dean of Mays Business School, and Peggy May's eminent scholar in business at Texas A&M University. In his recent book, Run Toward your Goliaths, Dr. Jones shares about how faith helped him overcome his personal and professional giants to follow God's guidance in his work and career path. This included a career change as he switched from being a successful businessman to becoming a professor. Dr. Eli Jones, thank you so much for joining us in The Making It Work Podcast.
Eli Jones: Oh Leah, thank you. Thank you for inviting me. This is special, I really appreciate it. I love sharing the testimony, I absolutely do.
LA: Well, I'm excited about sharing your book with our listeners, and before getting too much into it, let's just start with the title. The title of your book is called Run Towards Your Goliath: Fighting with faith to overcome the giants that stop your personal and professional success. Can you just start with, what do you mean by Goliath? And what do you mean by Goliaths in the modern day?
EJ: Such an excellent question. Thank you for that. So I went back and I started thinking about David and Goliath, obviously, and I thought about, what was it like to be a teenager taking on a Goliath, a giant, especially when you saw King Saul cowering down and the Army cowering down. But you saw that David had just the confidence, that boldness to run toward this thing that everyone was afraid of, and so I really thought about it from that perspective. And of course, as you know, you read the scripture, it says that he ran toward the battlefield, and I thought that was really, really special to think about it that way. When I think about the different Goliaths that we face in a lifetime, my wife and I will soon celebrate 39years of marriage. But we struggled out...
LA: Congratulations on that, by the way, not many people can say that.
EJ: Thank you. We have faced some Goliaths in our time, period, there's no question about it. We were in poverty for a long time, and I decided to put myself through school with children, and it was tough, graduate school twice. But that's one Giant, poverty is one. There are others, there is disappointment, there is fear. Fear is a big one. In today's world, anxiety is a big giant for so many people. If you look at mental health these days and wellness, you'll find that anxiety is so prevalent in our society today, and especially coming off of COVID. When you think about COVID, I started my podcast, Victory Groove, I started thinking, what is a modern day Goliath for us? And I think maybe COVID was one, you think about it: Big, scary, look at what it did worldwide. We were hunkered down in our homes, we were afraid to get out of our homes, afraid to go to work, afraid to go anywhere for that matter. I talked to so many people with elderly parents, and my heart broke for them as they were passing by assisted living facilities and just waving at their elderly parents, couldn't even see their families.
And that to me, is kind of a Goliath, kind of a modern day Goliath. It was just fearful. And I think today, because of the anxiety, obviously, COVID actually enhanced this issue of anxiety. I think today we have to really think through how can we build up the courage, how do we have the faith to continue on? And so that is to me kind of the modern day Goliath, and I think many of us are still trying to overcome that. So what I'm doing and what God is leading me to do is to encourage folks, think about all of the different giants that we faced over a lifetime, and how God has brought us through those things, and God can take us through this one too. So it's meant to inspire and to encourage.
LA: I love that. I wanna dive into the story of David and Goliath a little bit more and I wanna bring you into the conversation, Mark. When we think about the story of David and Goliath, this is one of the biggest hits of the Old Testament, it makes it into every children's book. We see illustrated cartoon versions of it, but give us some context around the story, Mark. Is there anything that we as adult workers should see in the David and Goliath story that maybe we haven't thought about or that's maybe surprising?
MR: Well, I love the connections that you're making, Eli. I love the connections you're making and I think that it really helps people get into that story. But Leah, you mentioned work, this is also a work story. This is a story about some folks that had work to be done, it was military work, and they were feeling overwhelmed by the challenge of it for pretty good reason, if you're one of the soldiers of Israel. There's this big giant guy with... That's a pretty scary thing. And in a way, David wasn't in the army, but it was the work he had done that prepared him for this particular challenge which, if you will, was a shift of work, it was a different line of work. And I think some of that context, we could easily miss, because we're just so struck by the extraordinary faith of David, when everybody else pretty much was chickening out, and it's pretty easy to do that. So I don't know that that really answered your question much, Leah, but I think... When we read these Bible stories, they can feel far away. And in one sense, they are far away. In another sense, this is about people in a workplace situation who are facing a gigantic challenge and need some serious help, they bring in a consultant.
EJ: That's right, [chuckle] that's right. So may I build off of that for one second? This is...
MR: Please, please.
LA: Absolutely. Please do.
EJ: I really love the way that God is taking this conversation. So as you were talking, I was given this, and that is, think about transferable skills that we talk about in the workplace. Think about that. In my place of business, at a university, I'm constantly working with people who are developing, they're learning, they're developing, they're launching their careers, I'm surrounded by this. And many times, I'll talk to a student, graduate student, undergraduate student, doesn't matter, and they're trying to figure out "How do I make a change? How do I take what I've learned in school and apply it to this new environment?" Think about David for a second, because remember, he said, "I have taken on lions and bears as I'm herding the sheep."
LA: He was a shepherd. He wasn't even a soldier by profession.
EJ: He was a shepherd. Yeah, but transferable skills. So he said, "Wait a minute, I've done this over here, taking care of the sheep, I can do this here, and I'm gonna... Watch. I'm gonna use my sling and my five smooth stones because that's what I've been doing over here as a shepherd. Alright? I've taken that on." And so I look at it from a work perspective how he was able to take that and say, "Wait a minute, I have the confidence to take this on. This is new, this is new. I'm not herding sheep, but I have the confidence based on what I've done in the past." So it was the God factor for sure, but it was also in my mind at least, the confidence of taking what was learned and applying it in a new environment.
LA: And I wanna let our listeners know you can follow along in your Bible, this is 1 Samuel Chapter 17. The story of David and Goliath takes up this whole chapter. And just what we've been speaking of is maybe something that you don't remember from the kids Bible version of the story, but it's not just that David was a kid coming into this situation, he wasn't even supposed to be there at all. He wasn't... It was his brothers that were soldiers, and his dad was like, "Can you go check on your brothers for me at the front lines?" And then when he got there, they're like, "Who's watching the sheep? You don't belong here at all." And just as you said, Eli, David is the one who says, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. No one's standing up to this giant? No one's coming against this Goliath guy? I know that I've slain lions and bears while I was taking care of my father's sheep. I can definitely take on this Goliath guy." And as you said, he runs towards the front line, and not with a sword, which is the technology that other people would have expected.
LA: David takes a slingshot, which is technology that he had from his previous role as a shepherd, and that's how he prevails in the situation. So you're right, there's so much about not only transferable skills, how can you survive in a new context, but actually how can the skills from one context be the specific things that are needed in a different context.
EJ: Right. That's right. Yep.
LA: Go ahead.
MR: I may be jumping ahead of you, Leah, but Eli, I know from having read your bio and your book and stuff, you made a pretty major career shift a bit back and I expect you lived through some of the things you're talking about and writing about. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
EJ: Sure, yeah. So first of all, thank you for reading my book. It was a labor of love, I can tell you, and it's been amazing to get feedback from those who've read it, just incredible. I prayed over the book and I said, "Lord, I want you to give a very special message to each person who reads the book." All right. And I've gotten some folks who have reached back out to say, "Hey, this is what I got from it." And sometimes, it's a little different. But in terms of a career change, I was working in corporate, I was in sales and sales management for three Fortune 500 companies, and I was going about my way, teaching sales people how to sell, mainly. I had some teams that I had to turn around, so low performing teams that I had to turn around. And so I had to go in and really engage with the sales people, go out to see the customers, spot opportunities, and I was doing that kind of work and was relatively successful doing it. But it occurred to me one day that... As I kind of followed the Lord and really paying attention to the gifts that he's given me.
And it was one thing that really stood out, and it was something that helped me use a transferable skill, as it turns out. I discovered that what I really loved the most out of doing that work, was the teaching. I just enjoyed the teaching. And so in that world, I was out working with operations and we were delivering to grocery stores, and it was a big deal, a really big deal. And so I had to really, as a sales manager, and then ultimately a second line sales manager, I had to be involved in a lot of different things, the operational side of the house, if you will, filling warehouses and making sure that stores were stocked and those things. And I remember walking with my wife one day, and I said, "You know what? I'm being tugged in a different direction." It's something I had not anticipated. What I felt was I got more energy when I was in a teaching mode than when I was trying to solve why that truck didn't get to that warehouse. [chuckle] And so I wanted to go with that energy. And I remember distinctly saying to my wife on this particular walk, we were living in South Carolina at the time. I said, "I'm being tugged to go back to school. I'm being tugged to leave that paycheck, that corporate paycheck, that executive pay, and go back to graduate school for another four years." We had four children at the time.
LA: I'm sure she loved this conversation. [laughter]
EJ: That's another podcast. [laughter] In fact, I know you've read the book, you could see in there, several times, my wife went, "I don't know about that." But she always said yes to God, and she still does, and that's what I love about her. So at first, this didn't make a lot of sense at all to go back and be a graduate student. I won't tell you how much I was making before and how much I was making at a graduate student level, but it was dramatic. In fact, we had three mortgages at that time, that's something that I shared with a group of doctoral students just a couple of days ago. So it was really a giant for us. How are we going to maintain our lifestyle, obviously the lifestyle had to change. How are we gonna sustain ourselves through a four-year graduate program? How are we gonna pay our bills? Those kinds of things. And it was an act of faith, there's no question about it. We had to step out on faith and God provided. And in the book, you can see multiple ways. And I grew up, I'm a first gen college graduate, by the way, first gen.
And so that in itself is taking on a challenge. I joined a major university, I had no one in my family to talk to about, "Hey, I've got a calculus exam, can you look at... [chuckle] Can you help me with this?" No, I didn't have that. And in fact, my family hardly understood what I was doing in the PhD program, but they went along with it, and they went along with it, and they tell me today, they went along with it because they saw that I was operating in my calling, and my wife wanted to support that. And she says repeatedly, "You know what? I might say yes to God... I may say no to you, but I'll say yes to God." And so she was willing to make several career changes with me. I'm actually in my third career now and I've been in this one for 25 years, so I think I'm gonna stay here. I think I've made it. [laughter]
MR: Well, as you said earlier, your marriage made it too. You're coming up on 39 years. [chuckle]
EJ: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Yeah.
MR: Well, it's your talk. I just need to say... This podcast isn't about me, but actually my wife and I had a really similar experience. Now, it's 15 years ago, that actually involved moving to Texas. The H. E Butt Foundation.
EJ: Oh sure, HEB, sure.
MR: Or the Laity Lodge, related to the grocery company. The foundation wanted me to come work for them in Texas, and we were well-situated in California, and I was pastor of a great church there, and it was one of those time... It really felt like this is a Goliath. And so I'm having a lot of empathy, but also appreciative of a spouse who says, "We're gonna really listen for the Lord." And we ended up having a great season in Texas. I know about a million Aggies. [laughter]
EJ: We're everywhere. I can tell you that.
MR: Oh my goodness, you are. [chuckle] So anyway...
LA: So I'll ask this question to both of you, Eli and Mark. It's one thing to make that decision, "Okay, I'm gonna follow God's prompting and go into this big change." But it's another thing to live in that day after day after day. What sustained you in your faith as you... After you made the decision, "Okay, I'm moving to Texas." or "Okay, I'm going to grad school again." What sustained you in the long haul part of facing that Goliath?
EJ: Yeah, that's a really great question. Mark, you're welcome to start and I would chime in afterwards.
MR: Well, you've already said it Eli, but I cannot tell you how many times I had to think to myself, "Okay, God has been faithful in the past, so I can trust him now even though I'm scared." One of the things we went through when we moved, I had two young, relatively young teenagers, and we took them away from their friends, and that was a pretty traumatic thing for them. And it was scary to think we have really turned our kids lives upside down, and so... But again and again, I and my wife would go back to, "God has been faithful" and remembering that and remembering those. And you had already mentioned that, but I just say that's been one of the huge pieces that keeps you going. Even in a time of uncertainty or as you said earlier, anxiety. Yeah.
EJ: Yeah. That's right.
LA: And this is exactly what David does in the story, right before facing his Goliath, this is in 1 Samuel 17, and it's in Verse 37. He's explaining to King Saul why he has the audacity to go against this giant. David says, the Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.
LA: So he's saying, God did it in the past, I'm trusting Him to do it again. He did the same thing you did Mark, he remembered what God did before, and he's using it for faith for the future.
EJ: That's right. And in my book, I talk about that, I kinda think about... I've mentioned this crawl, walk, run kind of mindset.
LA: That was gonna be my next question. You jumped at it. So this is the next question. Crawl, walk, run. What is it? What does that mean?
EJ: It's exactly what we're talking about. So you're getting started as a young Christian and you're saying, "Okay, I wanna believe." And by the way, I don't mind telling people as part of my testimony, I am a skeptic. I want you to know that. I tell a lot of people that. And I remember talking to God very early on when I was in my crawling stage, and I said, "Lord, I'm one of your children. So you already know I'm a skeptic, I'm sorry. I am what I am. I want to believe you. I really wanna believe in you, but you gotta show me." [chuckle] I did, you gotta show me.
And what was interesting is, once I kind of tuned in, we talk about discernment a lot in our faith, and once I kind of tuned in and I was willing to say, Okay, I'm gonna be a little vulnerable here, I'm gonna let my guards down a little bit and I'm going to pay attention to God working because I just challenged him, alright. I told him, I'm one of your children, I'm a skeptic, you're gonna have to show me. And if He is who He is, he's gonna do that. And so I had to pay attention to the little things. In my crawling stage, I was paying attention to the little things and I would look at say, there was no way I did that. I had to come to that realization. There's no way I did that. That was so beyond me. That had to be Him. And it started out with the little things.
LA: Can you give us an example?
EJ: Oh yeah, I can. I remember when I finished my MBA and I joined Quaker Oats. And I remember there were others in my MBA program who went on to Wall Street and they were doing high finance stuff and doing those kinds of things. And instead, I joined a consumer package goods company, and I was really interested in sales, so I wanted to develop there, and the first assignment I got was I had to go to these grocery stores in the middle of the night, 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. And if you go to these stores at that time of the morning, you'll start seeing some of this. So there are vendors out in those grocery stores resetting shelves in the middle of the night, moving products from one aisle to the next aisle. And in my case, I was working for Quaker Oats so we had cornmeal, flour, we had ready to eat cereal, all these... And we even had dog food at the time, we bought Ken-L Ration. But anyway, so I was in one early morning, I was on my knees and I was slinging cornmeal and flour, and I was upset.
I was really upset and I was so disappointed, I was ready to quit. And I went to my boss and I said, "You know what, I didn't go to graduate school for this. I just didn't, I didn't pay that sacrifice," it was all about me. "I didn't do all of that work in the graduate school to come here and be on my knees, slinging flour and cornmeal and dog food. That's it. I'm done, I'm done." And God used that boss, who's still a dear friend, to tell me, "Hey, you know what, you gotta think bigger, because you're not going to be doing this kind of work your entire career. This is just a start. Don't quit."
Later on, many years later, I have a friend who is a CEO of a major organization, and I invited him to speak to our students because they're in their crawling phase just like I was. And one of the things that sticks out... My friend's name is Jeff. Alright, I'll keep it there. And so... But anyways, so Jeff came and spoke to our students, and here's what he said, "Don't quit five minutes before your miracle." And so often when we're in our crawling stage in particular, we don't have enough evidence that God is real, and so we're kind of taking these baby steps, we're kind of crawling a little bit, and so I decided that I was gonna hold on to that and hold on to what my boss said, and hold on to this fact that we shouldn't quit five minutes before our miracle, we should know there's a miracle right around the corner, we just don't see it now.
Alright, and when you're crawling that's a big deal. That's a really big deal. And so I took a faith step, and when I took that faith step, I could feel God working, so I was ready to take a bigger step. It's exactly what we were just talking about. And then I moved from crawling to walking a little bit. Wait a minute, I can take another step of faith here because I believe he's gonna meet me at my need, I'll keep taking these baby steps, and now I'm gonna watch his miracles work. Wait a minute. And there's no way I could have done that, that must be him. And as I started really absorbing what he was doing in my life, I started running. And it's like, Okay, I got it, I got my groove, I'm ready to go. I can run toward these Goliaths now, I don't have to be afraid. Alright, I just need to believe. I need to be hopeful, and I need to be faithful. And now, and by the way, we had a major giant hit at our household in 2019. I lost my oldest daughter.
LA: Oh gosh.
EJ: And she's got three kids. We have three grandchildren from her.
LA: Oh I'm so sorry to hear that.
EJ: Oh man, but you know what? I've talked to so many people about this. Now, death is death, death is hard for a lot of people, but if you look into it, there are two types that are at the top of the list in terms of being the hardest. Death of a spouse and death of a child. Now, you wanna hear about running, here we go. I went from crawling, walking and now we're running because I'm able to say, My daughter is in a better place. I believe it with all my heart and her children, our grandchildren. They're gonna be okay too. And my wife and I are here for them, but we took on these other Goliaths before while we were crawling, while we were walking, and now we're running toward them, and we believe she's in a better spot, and we believe her three children are gonna be very successful, they're gonna be just right. I can say that with all the confidence now, because I'm running toward these Goliaths.
MR: Man, that's... Well, thank you for sharing that. It got to have been hard. I think part of what I love what you're saying, you got the running down, but for those who say, There's just no way I can run, you're also given permission to crawl. Yes, just start crawling, start... And I love your saying to the Lord, I'm skeptical. Sometimes we're afraid to say that to the Lord. Or whatever our thing is. I'm fearful. But I think you're given a lot of encouragement to focus, they're getting going, and then what you describe in your own life and since you get to know God's faithfulness more and more that momentum builds up.
MR: To help you even with something that is about as huge as anything could be. Which could be the death of a child.
EJ: Absolutely. And so you think about the David story, we were just talking about?
EJ: Because he had taken on the lions and the bears, he was able to take this one on. Alright, so that was a fast-forwarded. He could crawl, walk, run. [chuckle] Alright, and in our case, over a period of time, we've seen these various challenges and God showed us just how real he is, to the point in which we can take on this Goliath, and do it in a confident way. Knowing that she's in a better place. I have told so many people, and I mean this, Oh my god, I mean this, I don't know how people who don't believe make it through death of a spouse, death of a child. I have no idea how they're able to cope with that without the faith that we have.
LA: Compared to this level of Goliath, the average every day thinking about a career change seems very slight, but for those who are in it, it doesn't, every transition and every giant that you're facing seems of equal insurmountably. So as a last question, what advice would you give someone who's facing a giant in their career or their life and they're scared?
EJ: Yeah, that's a great question. I think about the youth that I'm surrounded by, like many of us, I have my share of mentees. So I'm talking to them all the time, they're at various stages, some are crawling, some are walking, some are running. And I'm really proud of them. I always say, give faith a try. Let's start there. Give faith a try. I'm gonna answer the question, I've gotta give you this story because it is a story about... I have a ministry that we founded three years ago, and it was a perfect timing. And it was months before my daughter passed, and the idea was I'm gonna bring together some men and we're gonna meet virtually. This is before we even knew about Zoom. We're gonna meet virtually and we're gonna shore up each other. Iron sharpens iron, so we're gonna work. We're gonna listen to their challenges in that. And our group ranges from 18 to 82, so we've got a wide range of people in this ministry, Five-fold Leaders Ministry's the name of it. And so when we talk about this, we went on... It was a wonderful series. We started with this idea of walking on water, and we talked about the story of Peter. The Lord is calling them out, and he's walking on water, but he couldn't peep down, he shouldn't, he needed to keep his eyes focused on Jesus.
Because that's scary when you walk... I don't know, I've never walked on water. [chuckle] But I can imagine that would be pretty scary, you look down and you can sink. And we started this conversation. So when we talked to the youth about giving faith a try, it's like You know what, Peter did it, he was able to walk on water and then we backed up. Wait a minute, watch this. We backed up and said, What about getting out of the boat? Getting out of your comfort zone a little bit. Could you imagine Peter looking over that edge of that boat, and he's getting ready to step out onto the water? We use that as an example of getting out of your comfort zone. Alright, and many times when you're crawling, when you're walking, you gotta be able to get out of your comfort zone and take that step of faith, give faith a try. Now, I am a skeptic and I'm telling everyone today that I am, but I know He's real. Give faith a try.
LA: Give it a try. Take a crawl. Start just try and crawl a little bit. Crawl along before you walk, before you run. Well, Dr. Eli Jones, it's been a real pleasure. Thank you so much for sharing with us today.
EJ: Thank you.
MR: Yes, indeed. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, but also your story and yourself, that's really meant a lot to us, and I know it'll mean a lot to our listeners.
EJ: Praise God. Thank you.
LA: Thank you.
EJ: Thank you for the opportunity.
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