Friday, 18 January 2013

Making life more meaningful

After discovering a person's name, what is the first thing that you ask them? "What do you do?", right? And when we ask that question, what we are really asking is: what are you paid to do? What do you complete during the hours of 9-5 Monday-Friday.

Which leads the conversation to describing each other in terms of the current job that we do. We are so accustomed to labelling ourselves in these terms that it comes to define us and who we are.

Jesus, during his ministry on earth, continuously attacked such paradigms, whether that's him renaming Simon, Peter, to give him a greater purpose in life, or asking the disciples "who do you say I am?".

Yet to step away from this cultural norm takes away a comfort in social etiquette. If we are to define ourselves by who we are rather than what we do, then we're going to have to develop a whole new way of talking to one another. For example, here's a typical conversation on two new people meeting:

- Hi, my name is Brian.
- Hi, Brian, I'm John.
- What do you do, Brian?
- I'm a builder.
- That's interesting. What kind of projects have you been working on recently?
- I just finished a house down by the river. It's a great source of pride for me actually.....(and the conversation goes on, and flows neatly back to Peter's job and how they might be related/interesting anecdotes etc).

Take that social norm away and replace it with a deeper understanding of who are are and we have something a little more awkward:

- Hi, my name is Brian.
- Hi Brian, I'm John.
- Who are you, Brian?
- I'm sorry!? What do you mean, John?
- I mean, what is your calling in life? What were you put on earth to do/be?
[awkward silence]
- A builder, I suppose. How about you?
[John, who's thought about it, replies confidently:]
- I'm a command achiever. I see a problem and I fix it, no matter who's in my way.
[Brian, getting a bit scared, starts to back away and make his excuses to leave]
- Anyway, nice to meet you, John. Must go.

So, how do we step into a zone where we are heading towards a meaningful, fruitful life, without alienating ourselves from cultural practices and norms?

For me, as I'm processing this, I think – to a certain extent – our everyday job does define us for others (at least for the first meeting). It usually is connected to our greater life purpose and goals and if it's not, at least it gives us a way in to discuss further dreams, ambitions, goals. This week I heard someone give a good explanation of this:

Know your calling/life purpose. Have a good idea of the career that fits into and then let the decisions you make in your current job lead you towards fulfilling that purpose. When someone asks 'what do you do', tell them first who you are, what that means and then what exactly you're doing right now to achieve that goal.
Grace Samson-Song (paraphrased)

So, let's re-visit that conversation again and apply this principle:


- Hi, my name is Brian.
- Hi Brian, I'm John.
- What do you do right now as a job, Brian?
- Right now, I'm a builder. What do you do?
- I'm an IT guy for a paper supply company. I enjoy it, because if see a problem, I can usually fix it, no matter what is the obstacle to overcome. There's something in me that I know I was designed to tackle problems.
- I can imagine that is a useful skill to have.
- Yes, and it's applicable in so many circumstances. How about you, what interests you in building?
- Making things has always interested me, in fact I designed all the houses I have built.

The key part, is then how we define others, based on this principle.

Old way:
Today I met Brian. He's a builder. We don't have much in common as I'm an IT geek, but he's a nice guy. 

Here, not only have I limited Brian to just being a builder, but also limited myself to geek status.

Alternative:
Today I met Brian. He has a real gift for design and he's using it right now in his job as a builder - designing the houses that he builds. I can see how his skills for visualising the end product could compliment my skills in problem solving along the way. We had a great chat. 

Both Brian and John sound like much more interesting people in the alternative scenario.

By limiting ourselves and, more importantly, to definitions of job title, we become a very dull society indeed. Because God created each one of us unique, with gifts, abilities and skills, you can never know the skills of those around you until you dig a bit deeper, where you will discover absolute gems under the most mundane job titles.

Let's redefine who we define ourselves and others to be and not limit ourselves to the 'builder' or 'IT' guy that our job title says we are!

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