I've lost count of the recent conversations I've had with friends who've found themselves adrift these days. How do we define ourselves when we can no longer look to a career that provided us with both financial security and a sense of identity? While no one product can provide a cure all for an ailing economy, Dr. Linda Seger's book The Spiritual Steps on the Road to Success helped me to refocus my priorities moving forward.
In this book, she notes how a successful career seems to need certain elements. First and foremost, we start with a basic question. Am I using my God-given talents in a way that contributes to the welling being of others in ways that adds value and goodness to the world? Seger places spirituality into this equation, which she defines as a sense of connectedness with God through one's work.
Connect with God through Your Work and Talents
She acknowledges that while we do need to be able to make a living, we don't need to be rich or even make much money in order to be successful. People are, according to Seger, when they earn a livable wage while using their talents to benefit others. Throughout the book, she notes that we maintain success by keeping our connection to God alive and following wherever God might call us.
Even though someone might be performing good deeds, if they still feel empty and unfulfilled, Seger suggest that either they're not doing the right work for them or they don't have the right relationship with God through their work. Even if we have many material things, if the spiritual side of our lives is not being fulfilled, we are missing an important part of success. Our job should bring us a sense of something that is Good beneath the surface. Good work fulfills us by helping us recognize our contributions, and our connections with others. It is fulfilling.
Seger's Definition of Success at Work and Life
Seger's book was at the printers before the current financial crisis hit, so I asked her via email how she'd redefine success in 2009. She agreed that not having money can bring a great deal of worry when one cannot meet the basic necessities of life. But she added that she's never defined success in terms of how much money or things people have. This means her definition of success remains constant regardless of the current economic indicators.
For those who have had to rethink their career trajectory as a result of losing their jobs, Seger suggests that time off can help people re-evaluate careers and re-think work as contribution rather than work as something we do to get paid. Those facing unexpected free time could give to others through volunteer work, which might test their calling by doing something for free in the field that they are interested in pursuing. People can still contribute and add value to the world and use their God-given talents, in spite of the fact that they aren't being paid for it. Volunteering has the potential to help us recognize our calling. If we're willing to do something for free, chances are, we really like it. And volunteer work can lead us to similar jobs that we can do for pay later.
Throughout this book and in her emails, Seger reminded me that times of financial uncertainty can teach us to put our trust more in God, not as the God who makes us prosperous, but as God the Provider. Often, we need far less than we think we need. These times can help us put our focus on the true things in life, not just the trappings of success that society teaches us.
Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:
- Think about movies, news, TV, and the internet. What does our culture teach us about success?
- Think about your own work. What parts of your daily activities help you connect to God?
- If some activities do not help you connect to God, how might you change the way you approach those activities?
- Peter says, “If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11). Do you think of God more as one who makes you prosperous or one who provides for your needs?