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“The problem is that your vocabulary is wrong,”
said the burliest bearded episcopal priest I’ve ever had the joy of meeting. He was examining the white board where I had presented my case study on the possibility of excellence and balance whilst in the midst of early childhood parenting, full time employment, and maintaining somewhat extra-curricular fine art career.
“It’s not about excellence and balance. You need to replace those words with faithfulness and rest.”
I was spent last weekend in Pittsburgh [Scott is referring to the Faith & Work 2.0 conference convened by Serving Leaders. See David Greusel’s response to the conference here. – Ed.] with a group of Christian business and clergy men and women discussing the ins and outs of how our faith and work lives mesh together in our career lives. We had already spent the morning examining two case studies on this topic – one of relational dynamics of two companies merging and the other about ethical practices in the finance world. Both conversations were extremely interesting as participants shared their own personal stories of navigating these choppy waters. What does it look like to honor the existing culture in a company you have just acquired and how do you excellently bring those two together? How do you practice good financial business when the boogeyman of greed is constantly haunting the hallways of your establishment?
After a quick lunch break though, it was my turn. The weekend’s coordinator had sprung on me a couple days earlier the possibility of presenting a case study to the group. She was hoping I could share some story from the design world that spoke to the tensions found in the subject of faith and work integration. Honestly, my mind was a blank. But I often think that the best place to share from is from where you presently find yourself. Usually your current tensions are the most poignant for a listening audience. So I told Lisa where I was at:
I am my family’s full-time bread winner in a challenging new job
with two small children under three
and a talented wife who’s exhausted and needs my support
and I have no idea when I have time to continue in my art career that I started 10 years ago.
So, in Pittsburgh, I just laid out the details …
In the last year we’ve moved twice, changed jobs twice, had a baby girl, and pretty much have been sleep deprived that entire time. I wake up with the baby around 630am (after she’s woken up a few times throughout the night). Change and feed her. Get ready to work. Commute. Work all day. Commute. Get home and try to be present with dinner, baths, and bedtime. And by the time I get the kids to bed, I’m exhausted. I may have an hour in me to work on something, but really I just want to pour some bourbon and watch an episode of Mad Men cuddled on the couch with my wife.
I’ve spent the last 10 years creating artwork, and this is the first year where my main source of income comes from a job in an office. The place I work is rad, don’t get me wrong, I just don’t know what to do with the art career I’ve had over the last decade. Do I need to give it up for now? Put it on hold? How do I be faithful to this journey I’ve been on yet still be responsible for all the other responsibilities I have?
One of the things I realized recently is that most of my art heroes (living artists whose careers I follow and even am jealous for) are single, childless, and spend all their time focused on their own creative careers. That is no longer a possible reality for me. I’ve been butting up this desired pathway and feeling unsuccessful for good reason … I can’t have an existence like that.
Excellence and Balance
My best friends and I often talk about this statement:“You can strive for excellence; you can strive for balance; but you cannot strive for both.”
We discuss whether this is a true statement or not. Is it possible to create excellent work with our lives while also being good husbands and dads? Or is the choice to be a balanced family directly affect the level of your career excellence, and vice versa?
I remember being on a trip with a pastor and an architect (sounds like a joke) and I presented this statement to them. The pastor believed that it was false… that it was possible to have a life with both. I discussed with him that in his context this may be true because the nature of being successful in his pastoral work demands him being balanced. My architect friend, on the other hand, agreed with the statement. He believed that creatives have quantifiable hours to make work. Take away the hours … take away the amount of work we can get done. Time away from work means less hours to work towards excellence.
Where I’m landing with these three points is this …In our lives, are there places where we give up (put on hold, take a time out) from our calling (work) because a higher calling is taking care of the people around us? And if we make that decision, is the reality that this will hinder our striving to create “excellent” (celebrated by the culture, well crafted) work?
The details of the conversation that followed are lengthy and unnecessary in this post. I received many sympathetic stories from parents in the room who validated that early childhood parenting is really hard and exhausting. They also encouraged me to remember that this just a season … and it will come to an end one day. Many resonated with what I had presented on the board … but in their experiential wisdom, they wanted to rework some of my statements.
Below is some golden nuggets of wisdom that came from the community that day:
Balance is a myth.
The reality is it’s about the choices you are making in your life between time, love, presence, and intention.
It’s not about excellence and balance.
You need to replace those words with faithfulness and rest. What are you being asked to be faithful with? Make choices to accomplish that. But in all of that, how are you resting? What rejuvenates you? For the Christian: are you taking a Sabbath? And do you even know what it means? It’s important. zSomeone else said you could replace Excellence and Balance with with “Responsibility and Rhythm”.
You need new heroes.
Ones who’ve gone before you in the same areas that you can look to for models of faithfulness between work and family. Stop fantasizing about their careers. You have your own unique way that is to be lived by the only person that can do it…. you.
Do some yoga.
I was in a group with a yoga instructor and we had long conversations about how exercise and breathing are tied into quality of life and mental health.
Life is unbalanced.
So stop trying to find a way to balance it. Daily seek faithfulness and rest, responsibility and rhythm.
Plant seeds of collaboration.
You’re older and you got kids. You can’t do everything by yourself. But what can open up with is new beautiful realities through collaborating with others. Who is your crew? What relationships have you built over the years and what can you do together? I love this one…. my mind is already racing….
There is a false dichotomy between Doing and Being.
These are not separate. Doing is being. Being is doing. Strive for a life of integration.
Nothing will stay the same forever. This will change. Life rolls on. Even in our toughest times remember it won’t always be like this. So lean into the season and don’t miss it. You don’t get to relive those seasons again… and it may contain some of the best lessons in life and character building that you’ll ever have.
Seek God in all this.
Psalm 16 has been the most important chapter in the Bible for me in this last year. In it is this : “You go before us in all things.” I’m not about to tackle predestination and free will … but what I’m going to push us towards is that God has seen before us and is with us now. He is not trying to disciple us any other way but now. Be open to what that may be.
I’m thankful for all who shared during my case study. Honestly, this is an immense list of real and honest wisdom. What a gift. Part of taking it to heart is writing it all down, which is this post. So I’m taking to heart … and seeking to transform the idea that my life is either balanced with no success or creating excellent work and having a miserable personal life.
An integrated life of faithful responsibility and rhythmic restoration is going to take some intentionality. So as I move forward, this is my new focus.
Would love to hear how you have handled situations and responsibilities that fall along these lines.
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