Work As Service To Others

Waiter servingThere are great many products and services, and a great many jobs, that are needed to build and maintain a flourishing society: those who produce food and other goods, distributors and retailers, communicators of various kinds, accountants, lawyers, and administrators, and many, many others.

And here we have a problem – – a problem of perception. The contribution of the people doing many of these jobs goes unappreciated, at least in religious contexts.(Time: 9:01)
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When Callings Become Burdensome

Millennial working photoAn acquaintance in his late 20s made a very interesting observation a few days ago. He said that finding a calling has become a serious problem for people his age – – but not in the way that I had expected.

His contention was that there has been so much emphasis, especially among his peer group, to find your calling, or to follow your passion, that the concept has become burdensome. Rather than finding a job that pays some money and seems to have a future, many people feel they are under a great deal of pressure to find not only a job but a calling. This has made it more difficult for them to get on with life.

Part of the problem, of course, is that it can take a long time to find or develop a calling, as Bryan Dik and Ryan Duffy point out in their book Make Your Job a Calling: How the Psychology of Vocation Can Change Your Life at Work. This can lead to a great deal of frustration if we try to rush the process.

But I think there might be more going on here.

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We Need More Silence!

Photo man praying in silenceWriting in the Harvard Business Review Online (The Busier You Are, the More You Need Silence), Justin Talbot-Zorn and Leigh Marz lay out the arguments for why busy people need more quiet time.

According to the authors, research shows that “taking the time for silence restores the nervous system, helps sustain energy, and conditions our minds to be more adaptive and responsive to the complex environments in which so many of us live, work and lead.” They provide selected references from both neuroscience and psychology.

They make a number of concrete recommendations involving ways to build more quiet time into our busy lives. These range from five minutes of meditation and reflection during the work day to longer quiet periods such as an afternoon spent in nature or a weekend meditation retreat.

In this article, Talbot-Zorn and Marz focus exclusively on the secular benefits of intentional silence, not the religious and spiritual. This is understandable given that they are writing for a general business audience; I might do the same.

But I think this exclusively secular approach leaves out an important aspect of intentional silence — the spiritual experience it sometimes evokes. . .

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Small Group Curriculum

Small Group Guide Cover

Preview Small Group Discussion Guide

Transforming Work: Spiritual Renewal for Your Work Life is now available as a preview. Our small group discussion guide is designed to help people connect their faith or spirituality and their work, and to help them find ways to deal with work related issues. Each session includes a passage of scripture, a short commentary, and questions for discussion.

While it is formatted for use by small groups, it can also be used for individual study and reflection.

Our plan is to offer it for free as a digital download for thirty days and then, after receiving your feedback, offer it for sale. if you would like to download it for free, please visit our Transforming Work page and we will be happy to send you a link.

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The Power of Humility

Humble man in churchHumility, properly understood, can make an important contribution to our spiritual and psychological flourishing, and can have very important benefits for our work life.

It is helpful to think of humility as having to do with a reduced focus on one’s own self. The person with humility is less concerned with maintaining a high degree of self-importance, or high social status, and is therefore more open to information and insights from others, whether it supports his or her own viewpoint or not. This can be very important in our work life.

If we are more open to information that has not been filtered through our own ego needs, we are more likely see things as they really are and to act with wisdom. We are also more likely appreciate other people, and the contribution they make; this is bound to lead to stronger relationships, greater collaboration, and more effective leadership.
(Time: 9:01)
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The Ups and Downs of Following a Calling

Finding your calling: Tom King interview photo.In this special edition we interview solar energy professional Tom King. Tom has a very interesting story to tell about finding and following a calling, and the ups and downs this can involve. Along the way he has worked in a variety of fields — coaching college sports, construction, information technology, a small food start up, produce distribution, and now solar energy. Tom has picked up several important insights which he shares with us.

This is our first interview; let us know if you like the format and we will do more.
Listen on: (Time: 17:10) iTunes / Stitcher / Google Play or

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Liberate the Human Spirit!

Photo of smiling business womanHave you ever worked in an environment that seemed to be designed to crush the human spirit? To eliminate any sort of initiative or creativity?
Maybe you have also seen working environments that seem to liberate the human spirit, workplaces where people seem to be more alive, more purposeful, more engaged — and also happier.
This raises the question: how might we encourage more of the latter? How might we create environments that liberate the human spirit rather than suppress it?
We discuss this important question in an article that you can find here. We also offer a related podcast episode you can find below.
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Building Collaboration and Collaborative Relationships: The Role of Personal Values

Woman on phone
Collaboration and collaborative relationships are often the key to success in business and most other professions.  These relationships are in turn heavily dependent on the values we bring to our work — values like honesty, compassion, humility, transparency, patience, and courage. These values are also the ones usually taught by the church and most other religious institutions. In this episode we talk about these values, and why collaboration is so important to the production of value in business, properly understood. (Time: 9:08)
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The Quest for the Sacred: The Story of King Herod and the Wise Men

Photo of Wise Men sculptureThe story of the wise men – – also known as the Magi – – is one of the great stories of the Bible. The late James Dittes of Yale saw in the story a battle between two conflicting aspects of our human nature, a drive for stability and control, and a drive to forsake stability and control in order to pursue a quest for the sacred. In the story, the desire for stability and control is represented by Herod and the quest for the sacred is represented by the wise men.
Both are necessary and contribute to human flourishing.
The drive for stability, in its uncorrupted form, is important to us. It provides the foundation for the coherence that helps us make sense of daily life. It enables us to make decisions regarding our work, our family, and other areas of our lives. Too much turmoil makes it almost impossible to make clear decisions and to build effectively for the future.
But the quest is important too. What I am calling the quest has to do with our search for the sacred, for transcendence, for meaning. We can think of the quest as the natural outgrowth of the intuitive human desire to connect with something deeper than ourselves – to experience a deeper sense of connection with God. It is as though over the course of our lives we are being drawn to God.
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Carrying Too Much Stress?

Photo of stressed woman

Maybe your body can help.

There’s a lot of talk about spiritual practices, especially prayer and meditation, that can help us deal with stress.

But there’s another approach that might help — connecting with our bodies.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Leah Weiss of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Hope Lab, recommends some things to help us become anchored in our bodies, as a way of dealing with work related stress. She recommends things like paying attention to a single intentional breath, noting our physical response to stressful situations, and magnifying small, physical pleasures — like the first sip of coffee.

There’s more and the article can be found here.

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Can Your Work Be Your Calling?

Photo of man working

Finding Purpose

No matter what we see as the primary purpose of our work, it is clear that if we can find more meaning in it, then we are likely to be more effective, more purposeful, and happier. For some people, this means seeing their work as their calling.

In this episode we talk about what it means to have a calling, and how we might develop or find it. While people have used several very different definitions, we will focus on what we see as its key aspects.
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(Time: 11:59)

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Michael Novak, 1933-2017

Michael Novak photoI received the sad news that Michael Novak died Thursday.

Novak was an outstanding scholar and the author of numerous books, among them The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism and Business as a Calling. He was also a kind, thoughtful person and had a gift for entertaining conversation.

A few years ago, shortly after the founding of the Center for Faith and Enterprise, I invited Michael to speak in California. To my complete surprise, I received a call from his assistant accepting my invitation; the result was a speaking tour (three formal lectures and two dinner meetings) sponsored by the CFE. I will always remember the almost two and half days we spent driving from venue to venue, engaged in conversation the whole time. It was a great time — he was an excellent conversationalist, a source of important insight, and an encouraging voice.

(His friend the Rev. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute has recorded a moving tribute.)

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Going Backwards

Photo of depressed manMost of us have had times when we seem to be going backwards in our career or in our work life. Or maybe times when we seemed to be dead in the water while everyone else was moving forward.
But in these situations are we really moving backwards? Or might there be something going on, out of sight – – something that is laying the foundation for new growth – – something of which we might be completely unaware?
There is hope.
We might not be able to change our objective circumstances, at least in the short run, but we can control our response. . .
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Societal Complexity and Human Well Being

Abstract image of complexityThree weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi speak at the Western Positive Psychology Association conference. Csikszentmihalyi is one of the founders of positive psychology (with Martin Seligman) and is well known and highly regarded for having developed the concept of flow.

Csikszentmihalyi provided a preview of a paper on which he and Daniel Gruner are working called (as of now) Complexity: Towards a New Measure of Societal Well Being. He presented data that showed a correlation between societal complexity and various measures of societal well being.

The topic surprised me. Before hearing the talk, I probably would have been more inclined to associate well being with simplicity rather than with complexity. When I think of societal complexity, I think of burdensome policies and procedures and a regulatory system creating complex rules faster than they can be understood. But Csikszentmihalyi and Gruner mean something quite different.

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Bad Seeds (Meant Literally)

Photo of Uganda farmerThis month’s Reason Magazine (March, 2017) has a very interesting article by Francisco Toro on the bad seeds of Uganda. He means bad seeds literally – – seeds that do not germinate when planted.

I have a special interest in what Toro has to say about this because I have been involved in a small way in several small agribusiness ventures in Uganda. I can vouch for what he is saying – – the bad seed problem is real and awful. Farmers can buy apparently good, certified seeds, and then have very small crops because a high proportion of the seeds do not germinate.

The fundamental problem is counterfeit seed. . .

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