Archive for the ‘Career’ Category

I have four related books on my reading list that I am hoping to finish soon so I can make some summary remarks on, with specific reference to my current ecclesial context.

The book by John Piper and Don Carson is based on talks given by them at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on April 23, 2009. Piper began his career in the academy, earning his doctorate in theology before eventually discovering that his passion was preaching; Carson, on the other hand, began pastoral work in humble circumstances in my hometown, before he was asked to fill a vacancy at a local Baptist college, which led him to pursue a Ph.D. in NT studies at Cambridge.

In describing his journey, Piper came to the realization in junior high that he “would never be a preacher” (p. 26) like his father, because of his deep-seated anxiety (he calls it “physical impossibility”) in speaking in front of others. Through his schooling, he did develop an appreciation and ability for “painstaking observation” and “precise thinking”. One might think then that Piper would be ideally suited to following a scholarly path — were it not that Piper confesses to be a “painfully slow” reader. After obtaining a major in literature, Piper wondered if he “should teach English literature as a vocation”. (p. 35)

But that changed after hearing two of evangelicalism’s elder statesmen (Ockenga and Stott) speak in the mid-sixties, which led him to pursue studies at Fuller Seminary. After graduation, Piper was unclear what to do next, so he heeded the advice he was given to pursue a doctorate while he was still able to. Despite Piper’s handicap of being a slow reader, he nevertheless obtained his doctorate in 1974, after which he accepted a teaching position at Bethel University and Seminary. A sabbatical in 1979 resulted in The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1–23 (Baker, 1983; rev. ed., 1993), but Piper realized his teaching and scholarly days were over. In 1980, Piper was called to Bethlehem Baptist Church and remained there until he preached his last message in 2013.

It was during his Fuller days that Piper encountered Jonathan Edwards and the resulting epiphany that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” (Christian Hedonism as he would later dub it) would be the signature emphasis of his entire ministry. For him, rigorous reading of the Bible and the attendant demand to follow the lines of argumentation is what he now considers as “scholarship”. He remarks that:

If I am scholarly, it is not in any sense because I try to stay on the cutting edge in the discipline of biblical and theological studies. I am far too limited for that. What “scholarly” would mean for me is that the greatest object of knowledge is God and that he has revealed himself authoritatively in a book; and that I should work with all my might and all my heart and all my soul and all my mind to know and enjoy him and make him known for the joy of others.

What can we learn from this look at Piper’s journey? First of all, despite what appeared to an initial obstacle, God helped him overcome his paralyzing fear of public speaking. Is Piper an “effective” communicator? One could argue that he is more passionate than he is eloquent, but I suppose that’s subjective.

One point bears mentioning and that is that Moses and Jeremiah did not see themselves as competent speakers, and it also seems some of the Corinthians were judging Paul for his lack of eloquence and oratorical skills (1 Cor. 2, passim; 2 Cor. 11:6), but obviously God used them nevertheless. Sometimes I fear that Christians place too much emphasis on whether a preacher is articulate or eloquent, without paying much attention to the character of the man or the content of the message. Often, the preacher may be a very charming and competent communicator but his message can be sub-biblical and/or lacking “meat”.

Secondly, with respect to Piper’s preaching, given his academic beginnings, I am a bit disappointed that he chooses to minimize his interactions with current scholarship when preparing his messages (insofar as I can tell). However, Piper also a very active writing ministry, and for me personally, this is where I appreciate him the most.

Finally, it is encouraging that Piper is not a “careerist” pastor, but has faithfully served one church for over 30 years. Too many clergy view the pastorate as just another career and hop from one church to another in the hopes of landing a more lucrative position. I do have some concerns where a church depends primarily on a single pastor for the bulk of its teaching, but that will be addressed later.

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Against Christianity 5

Chapter 3 of Peter Leithart’s book that we’ve been engaging with is entitled “Against Sacraments”.

Mary Douglas has written that “One of the gravest problems of our day is the lack of commitment to common symbols.” However, Leithart feels she doesn’t go far enough; he would argue that the resistance to and rejection of rituals “is a defining characteristic of modernity.” Among the reasons that could be given for this, the first one he gives is “the modern celebration of novelty”, noting the change in how the word original had shifted to mean “fresh and new, having no relation to the origin”. This semantic shift seems to epitomize the “sea-change in mentality” that came with modernity, “an ideology committed to novelty, to spontaneity, to the now.”

Ritual, with its atmosphere of ancient authority and its (apparently) bland repetitions, was out of step with modern consciousness. Moderns would rather die than do it over again.


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Just started reading what I hope will be a helpful book, Career Contentment: Don’t Settle for Anything Less! by Jeffrey Garton. Here’s a quote:

You have to understand that job satisfaction is controlled by employers, while career contentment is controlled by individuals independent of employers. …

Once employees are on the job, their satisfaction is codependent on their performance in exchange for what the employer offers to attract, motivate, and retain them. They expect to be made satisfied, but not at the expense of wasting their time and talents in the wrong job or career. If they’re not satisfied, they’ll leave—and it doesn’t matter how hard the employer tries to keep them satisfied.

Just as employers are obligated first to pay attention to the purpose of their business and only second to the commitments they make to employees, employees are obligated first to pursue their life purpose and only second to keep the commitments they make to employers. Each is in control of their destiny, and each perceives the other as instrumental to their purpose but interchangeable to suit their evolving needs. Employers change people, just as people change jobs, careers, and employers.

… Frankly, if you expect pay, benefits, perks, your employer, or any other traditional measures to provide you with contentment, your search will be long and fruitless. Career contentment must come from within you.

I’ll post more thoughts after I’ve read a few chapters.

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I recently came across another article of interest to me and my current state of career transition, “Beyond the Self: External Influences in the Career Development Process,” by Ryan Duffy and Bryan Dik (The Career Development Quarterly, Sep 2009).  As implied by the title, the authors explore a number of external factors that affect career decision making, to complement “the influence of an individual’s internal goals, needs, and pursuit of satisfaction”.

Specifically, the authors examine four external influences:

  1. Family expectations and needs
  2. Life circumstances
  3. Spiritual and religious factors
  4. Social service motivation

The first point is certainly a constraining factor in any change of career choice I may make insofar as it impacts work-life balance.  Financial remuneration and retraining costs would also be considerations that relate to this point.

With respect to life circumstances, the authors admit this is a rather broad category that “refers to all of the uncontrollable situations, events, and conditions that occur at an individual and societal level that may constrain career decision making.”  For example, the current economic climate has an obvious bearing on the job market. A change in one’s health status would be another factor that would override any ideal career path one might be envisioning.  While the authors also state that these unpredictable circumstances can be “positive and produce beneficial career outcomes for an individual, such as serendipitous events that lead to better employment”, that generally hasn’t been the case for me, and in any case, one can’t depend on serendipity alone!

I was going to just brush off the third factor as irrelevant but clearly there is something to said for individuals who believe that there is a Divine plan for their lives, including their career which they view as their calling. This sense of an integrated and  transcendent framework for their lives that grants a sense of purpose, mission, and meaning in life would obviously be a powerful motivating and sustaining force. Indeed, the authors note that research has  found “such factors relate positively to desirable career development outcomes such as career decision self-efficacy, career maturity, and job satisfaction”.  Maybe this prodigal son needs to return home …

The last external influence, social service motivation, resonates with me as volunteering has been a very rewarding experience, though I’m not sure I’m quite as altruistic as those whose “desire to serve others may take precedence over other aspects of personal fulfillment.”  At the same time, I have recently considered the possibility of working for not-for-profit organizations that align with my interests and support. Alas, there usually aren’t a lot of openings in these organizations.

At this stage in my life, a desire for growth, purpose and significance are probably the main driving forces behind my restlessness. How to fulfill this desire within the constraints noted here and elsewhere on this blog is still something I’ve not quite figured out yet.

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Career Crossroads

I get a kick out of reading academic articles as the conclusions of their studies often seem to be just plain common sense. For example, one such article I recently read is:  “The relationship between career plateauing, employee commitment and psychological distress: the role of organizational and supervisor support” (International Journal of Human Resource Management, Vol. 20, No. 5, May 2009).

Here’s a remark made early on in the article: “plateauing may have harmful consequences for both the employee and the organization”.  Gosh, really?! 😉   Yeah, I know, academic research has to be rigorous and all that. But still.

I’ll summarize some of the article’s key points and then offer some of my own observations and opinions.

The authors note that employees who have plateaued in their career are generally still solid performers.   Therefore, “managers, because of their limited resources, tend to concentrate their attention on the organization’s rising stars and problem employees.  As a result, most plateaued employees, who generally continue to perform well at work, are pushed aside.”  And though it may not be intentional,  “the resulting sense of abandonment could be a source of declining motivation and psychological distress.”

They go on to describe two forms of career plateauing: structural (or hierarchical) plateauing, when an employee has low likelihood of vertical advancement (and possibly horizontal as well), and content plateauing, “which occurs when individuals have mastered their work and feel it no longer offers opportunities for learning or challenge.”  Then they state what to me seems obvious, that “plateauing has generally always been associated with negative consequences. Among other things, it has been linked negatively to employee satisfaction at work, affective commitment to the organization, work performance and psychological well-being.”  In other words, if you feel you’ve hit a plateau in your career, then you’re going to be a stressed, unhappy, emotionally disconnected and disengaged employee.  Surprise, surprise!

They hypothesize that career plateauing (structural and content) are negatively related to employees’ perception of supervisor (manager) and organization support. In other words, generally speaking, an employee experiencing plateauing perceives less support from his or he manager.  He or she may blame the supervisor for unfair performance reviews or preferential treatment of other team members. As well, “employees experiencing hierarchical or content plateauing have often been left out in the cold by the organization” (or so they feel).  In this case they may blame downsizing or company policies (e.g. outsourcing) for example.

I would suggest that in addition to content and structural plateauing, we might add what I’ll call compatibility plateauing, which can result from the first two. That is, an employee who finds herself stuck in her career because she feels there’s no chance of upward mobility or that her current job is stagnant and  has “become routine and no longer offer opportunities or challenges”, may opt for a lateral move (often without fully thinking it through) to a new role in the company because of the desire for change.  (The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. 😉  Then over time, she realizes that her real interests and passions actually lie elsewhere.

When faced with career plateauing, what can an employee do?  What factors enter into their thinking and ultimately, their decision-making process?  This is outside the scope of the article, but there are some obvious considerations such as age,  internal and external opportunities, willingness to retrain, etc.  For me personally, my (positive) relationship with my manager and team has a strong weighting (i.e. commitment, loyalty) on any decision I would make, which unfortunately, only adds to the stress.  My wife reminded me of another factor: how much self-definition and significance do I derive from my career? Especially in relation to family, friends, health, volunteering, hobbies, etc.  A good question that I can’t give a simple answer to.

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I like to think of myself as a “multidisciplinary autodidact”.  Ever since I was young, I loved to read and learn new things: when I was 7, my dad bought me a set of encyclopedias. What bliss!  I recall spending endless hours just browsing each volume in my quest for new information. Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar

Of course, such a quest now seems silly, given the vast sea of data scattered throughout the Internet.  In this regard, Madelyn Blair’s recent book Riding the Current: How to deal with the daily deluge of data, which I just finished reading a few weeks ago, offers some very useful practical advice.  I’ll have more to say about this book in a future post.

The other night I was listening to an interview with James M. Bach (son of Richard Bach, author of the bestseller,  Jonathan Livingston Seagull), who describes his unconventional “education” growing up. Nowadays, of course, there is a whole unschooling movement afoot that seems to appeal to the radical and rebel types. 😉

I thought of how this self-learning philosophy, in conjunction with so-called social learning, fits into modern corporate culture.  Well, it seems to me that job ads still ask for formal degrees, certifications and such things. Then of course, there’s this thing called “experience”.  So I’m wondering, as a professional at the past-midpoint of his career, how to transition to a new career, one that’s radically different from my IT background. It’s not good enough that I may have read avidly in that new field of interest – I have no formal training and no formal experience (unless you count my related experience volunteering on non-profit boards).

Well I’m told I should focus on “transferable skills”.  Sure, but at the end of the day, I still lack formal “domain” knowledge in the new field I’m planning to transition to.  So what’s one to do?  Invest the time and money for formal training?  At this stage of my life, I’m not sure I want to do that …

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