What Are You Really Working For?

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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What are we really working for?

More stuff? A bigger house? A savings fund that will secure an early retirement?

While none of these things are bad in and of themselves (and we all need to earn a living), I don't want to get to the end of my career and say to myself, what did I really accomplish?

Lunch with a friend

The other day, I had lunch with Peter, a respected friend and colleague. He told me that he hit a turning point when he turned 40. He was working hard and having much success as a lawyer. Then, sitting on a cruise ship with his family, it finally hit him. Something was missing.

What am I working for? Is this it?

In response, he went home and got out an old guitar he hadn't played in 20 years. Within a year, he joined a band, bought a new guitar, and has been writing songs (and playing gigs) ever since. As a musician, Peter—still a high-powered, big-firm lawyer—explained that he had to “become childlike, get in the sandbox, and just have fun.”

The result? Tapping into his musical talents has made him an even better lawyer.

Lawyer and musician

I asked Peter, “How did your music make you a better lawyer?”

He responded with several examples. To start, musicians need to connect with their audience—people who have real stories, real problems, and real needs. A musician, like a lawyer, has only a few moments to establish that vital connection. And, yes, first impressions are critical.

Peter also explained that, in picking up that old guitar, he rediscovered what it's like to be an amateur again.

“It's okay to be an amateur or a novice. It's okay to fail or make mistakes so long as you enjoy the process and hopefully learn from it.”

Being an amateur gave Peter freedom to try, freedom to fail, and freedom to get away from the pressures of being the professional.

As a lawyer, Peter is at the very top of his profession. As a musician and artist, he is definitely outside of his comfort zone. For example, working musicians aren't always treated with respect—something Peter experienced firsthand when a police officer treated him like a felon in a public park. And while Peter was tempted to put on his lawyer hat and claim, “I have a real job and I know your boss!” he instead chose to keep quiet and learn a lesson in humility.

Putting on your creative hat

We all have a need to be creative—to use our God-given talents and contribute to something outside of ourselves, just for the joy of the experience. But some of us have lost our sense of creativity and play. We've become one-dimensional. We work hard, take care of our families, and “get by” week after week. But that's it.

Of course, work itself can be creative, but some of us need to get out of our ruts to fill that creative void. It doesn't necessarily mean that we have to quit our jobs, change our lifestyles, or move across the country. Taking that first step—reaching outside of our comfort zones—will look differently for each of us. It might even be as simple as pulling out that old guitar in the closet.

Like Peter, I had one of the those turning points a couple of years ago when I heard that nagging question: What am I really working for? Like Peter, I knew there had to be something more. No, I'm not a musician. But I decided to venture out on another creative adventure—writing my first book. As a first-time author, I've learned what it's like to be an amateur again. But I've also learned that there's nothing like following your dreams and tapping into that creative potential, even if it means learning a lesson or two in humility.

Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:

Photograph "9" by high calling photographer Phil Mollenkof, used with permission.