September 13, 2021 • De Pree Journal
Right now, a staggering number of people are considering quitting their job. Let’s face it, the pandemic turned our world upside down. If the way you feel about work has changed during the course of the pandemic, you’re not alone. In my role at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership, I talk to people about their work…a lot. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve heard the following themes in people’s stories:
- For some, work-from-home became work-all-the-time. When you’re always available there’s pressure to be always on. Now, we just need to rest and recover.
- For others, we like the flexibility of working from our couch. Now that our companies want us to come back to an office, we find ourselves resistant to go back to the way things were.
- We had a lot of time to think about what really matters to us. We realized work felt futile or that our bosses were kind of a headache. Now, we want more. We need more.
My new book, Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World, is a guidebook for the (often day-by-day) process of discovering meaningful work in a changing world. Below, I’ve summarized parts of the process for you.
1. Reflect on the Road Thus Far.
Maya Angelou says, “You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.” It’s true, isn’t it? In order to envision what might be and where we might go, or even why we might stay, we’ve got to get clear about what’s already happened. Let’s call this
Of course, the Bible has a lot to say about remembering. God is particularly clear with the Israelites at various junctures that they would do well to remember how God delivered them from oppression (Deuteronomy 6:12) and that God was with them as they wandered in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:2). We take this as evidence that when we’re in a tough place God is with us too (Psalm 23).
I find it helpful to reflect on where I’ve been by actually drawing my road of calling as I remember it. You should draw your own road, including significant-to-you milestones in your life that have led you to where you are today. As you do so, consider the shape of your road and key milestones along the way. If there have been many pivots and surprises, maybe your road has a dozen switchbacks. Or if your journey has felt especially difficult, maybe set it on the side of a steep mountain. I’ve had people tell me that they picture actual roads they know well—the road their childhood house was on or the road they now run on. Really visualize it. Take your time and draw all the way up until the present day.
2. Now, Try and Name Where You’re Stuck.
Now that you’ve spent some time remembering how God has brought you to where you are today, see if you can name ways in which you feel stuck today. What I’ve learned is that we all have ways we feel stuck, even if they are a few layers beneath the surface. I usually need help getting at these deeper layers. To do that, I’ve come up with an exercise. There’s a more detailed version of it in Make Work Matter, but I’ll provide an abbreviated one here.
Ask yourself the following questions, writing down your responses. Where do I have frustration in my current role, disappointment with work, or even pain? You may have many things that surface, or just a few.
Then ask: what do these frustrations, disappointment, or pain reveal about what I’m longing for? You may have many longings that come up, or just one.
I have witnessed over and over that meaning comes to those who are willing to do the complicated inner work of getting in touch with our longings so that we can grow in attunement to the day-by-day graces of God on whatever road we are traveling.
3. Identify and Take Next Doable Risks.
After you hear yourself describe what it is you are longing for, a natural next step is how to take that sense of longing to God as you start to discern the next steps. This might lead you right back to “Should I stay or should I go?” Or you might feel much more confused. I have found that clarity in pursuit of longings often comes not just through thinking about what we might do, but through taking small, doable risks that start to stack up toward something meaningful.
When we think about risks, we tend to imagine the big, hairy, scary choices that can either make or break us. Moving to a new city where you don’t know anyone. Quitting a job you love to work at a new place you hope will advance your career. Taking out a loan to start a new business. Going back to school to change career paths.
While it’s certainly true that sometimes God compels us to take big risks, most of our daily lives don’t play out in such a grand fashion. Consider the opportunities for risks that have presented themselves over the past week or month. Maybe there was a chance to speak up in a meeting? Or you thought about drawing an after-office boundary with your boss? Or saying yes to a new type of project?
Now, think about your upcoming week. Can you identify the next doable risk that you want to take in your work? Maybe it’s related to, “Should I stay or should I go?” Or maybe it’s something different.
Whatever you do, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to email me and let me know how it went. Even if you’re not considering leaving your job, remembering the road thus far, naming where you’re at now, and charting out the next doable risks can be a powerful way to consider how you approach your work and how that work is part of the big work of redemption, justice, and peace that God is up to in the world.
 Gallup estimates that 48% of people are thinking about quitting their jobs. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/351545/great-resignation-really-great-discontent.aspx
Michaela O’Donnell is the Senior Director of the De Pree Center and an Adjunct Instructor of Practical Theology and Leadership at Fuller Seminary where she teaches classes on leadership and vocation.
Michaela’s first book is due out in 2021! It is about finding meaning in a changing world of work. She regularly writes and teaches on the topics of: vocation, changing world of work, innovative leadership, practical theology, and women in leadership.
Click here to view Michaela’s profile.