Is This What I Was Made For? Part 1 of an Interview with Leigh McLeroy

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Author Leigh McLeroy has a passion for God and a keen eye for His presence in everyday life. Her career has taken her from marketing to mega-churches to nonprofit health care. At one point she worked in world-wide legal firm. These days she is a happily self-employed writer.

In her latest book, The Beautiful Ache, she talks about how to recognize a sense of dissatisfaction as a gift from God. During this two-part interview with, McLeroy shared stories about her work, her family, and difficult bosses.

>> Read Part 2 of this interview: Make Your Job an Adventure

What is "the beautiful ache"?

The beautiful ache is that nagging longing that leaves you wanting more. No matter what we call the longing, we all experience it. Career wise, people spend a lot of their 20s and 30s just trying to get ahead and be successful, however they may choose to define success. Some of us spend so much time trying to get there that we don't pay that much attention to what we're hearing and seeing and learning along the way.

Somewhere around 37, I started looking around—especially at my career and my worklife—and wondering, "Is this it? Is this what I was made for?"

I slowly stopped looking at my 9-to-5 job as the thing that would utterly satisfy me and started looking more at the gifts I had, the things that I loved to do, the things that resonated with me. I knew God could use these parts of me, but maybe not in the way that I had originally envisioned.

That's when you were called out of your career in marketing, right?

Well I was … for a time. At that point in my life, I had already worked on the agency side and client side of the marketing world and had joined the staff at a mega-church and stayed there for several years. Initially, I had envisioned working in that ministry until I couldn't work any more. But the "it” never happened like I thought it would.

So I've done the “secular” part of work, and I've been relatively successful at it. I've enjoyed it. And I've done the “professional ministry” part of work using similar gifts. I enjoyed that too. Now I've been a solo practitioner for the last four years, and I have absolutely thrived.

That reminds me of something from the beginning of your book. On the very first page, you write, "Our goal is not simply transport or amusement. It is abundant, vibrant, God-glorifying … "

… soul-satisfying life! That's it. That's it.

What does that look like when we go to work?

It's when I lose track of time. I don't get tired as easily. It sounds goofy, but I just find myself delighted a lot of the time—to be engaged in what I'm engaged in and doing what I'm doing.

And that specific joy is a gift from God?

Oh, my goodness, yes.

It's also a result of loosening my grip a little bit. I’ve learned to say to God, "You know how you made me. You know where I thrive and you know where I wither. You know where I am fruitful for your kingdom and where I struggle."

Honestly, I was scared to death when I left the corporate world and went out on my own. Every day I feel like I go outside and ask, "Where's the manna fallen?" Because I'm just out here to pick stuff up.

You say you went out on your own. What does it look like to be out on your own with God?

In my head, I always knew that God was my provider, but every two weeks someone else was writing me a check.

The way it works now, I show up at my desk in the morning, and I don't know what's going to happen when the phone rings. I have a group of clients I work for repeatedly, but it's not a sure thing. Every month looks different. Every week looks different.

But God is still my provider. In one chapter of the book, I talk about a conversation I had with my sister. She said, "Leigh, you're working for who you've always worked for."

In the book you talk about voices that act as lifelines to you—like your sister. How do you find those voices?

I think they just find you. My family has been incredibly supportive in terms of my work and my gifts and my career.

When I was thirteen, my dad handed me a handwritten letter and a long stemmed red rose. It said, "Your mother and I will always love you and be proud of you, but it is your Maker you will answer to and yourself that you will look at in the mirror every day."

That's a brave thing to say to a thirteen-year-old. He pretty much set me free. He was saying, "We love you. You don't have to please us. You don't have to pattern your life after us. You will answer to God. And you'll have to live with yourself."

How do you know when to persevere and when you need to change?

I had lunch with a lady a few weeks ago. We were talking about a situation at her work. She desperately wants to leave, and God hasn't moved her yet.

I told her about a couple of times in my life when I was in that same place. Times when I knew it was time to go, but God had not yet said, "It's done."

I’ve waited a long time to be delivered from some places.

Can you give me an example of that?

Early in my career, I worked for a young, on-the-rise executive, and he took me under his wing to mentor me. I was in my 20s. Basically, he told me, "In 2 years you'll be an assistant vice president. If you stick with me, in 5 years you'll be a vice president."

That's a pretty heady thing to hear for someone in her 20s.

I bought it for awhile and felt like I was working where God wanted me.

But one day we were nose to nose in his office, and he said, "If you want to get much further than this, you are going to have to get a lot tougher."

I remember going home that night and really looking in my heart. And I realized that I was already as tough as I ever wanted to be.

So did you turn in your two-week's notice?

I knew I was done—that I had gone as far as I could in that assignment. Certainly, I was ready to go at that point. But it was almost another year before God moved me out.

On my last day at that job, I had a conversation at my desk with the gentleman who was my boss. I had a very small New Testament tucked into a wicker basket on my desk. It wasn't laying out. It wasn't in the open. But he sat down on top of my desk, reached into the basket and pulled it out.

He asked, "Do you read this?"

"Every day," I said.

"What did you read today?"

I had read James, so I said, "Consider it all joy my brethren when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing."

Then he asked, "Do you pray?"

"Every day," I said.

"Did you pray for me today?"

I said, "Yes, I did."

And he teared up. This tough-as-nails guy. Then he said, "Will you still pray for me when you leave?"

And I said, "I will."

That was the moment when I finally felt God say, "It's done."

>> Read Part 2 of this interview: Make Your Job an Adventure