I’ve been accused by my colleagues of being a workaholic. I had at least one colleague tell me I ruined her ministry by setting a precedent in the church of working in certain fashion that was not sustainable or healthy. When she chose not to work that way the congregation felt let down and turned on her. I think that has happened more than once. I think this may be a good reason to stay where I am indefinitely…
I once had a friend of mine who works in counselling say that if you say you are a workaholic you can’t be a workaholic by definition. She meant that most people who use that term loosely are likely trying to get people to think they work hard, it is part of a campaign, a narrative that tells people they don’t need to worry about your work ethic. This counsellor wondered if people who do this aren’t a little insecure about how hard they work and thus need to spin a story.
I remember a church conference where I sat in a pizza shop when the work for the day was over. Sitting around the table every colleague was competing to tell us how hard s/he had to work. When my turn came I told them this reminded me of that Monty Python skit where the men sit around the circle comparing how hard life was for their generation compared with the present one. The conversation came to a sudden stop.
I find it amusing that in my last two interviews with church search committees the questions were never about my ability to do the work. Rather, what I was asked over and over was whether given all the things I do would I have enough time and energy for their church. It’s a fair question unless you had talked to my references or people who know me. Which would not be hard considering the number of churches I have served in these parts.
I don’t think I am a workaholic. The difference between me and most people is not how hard I work, it is that all of the things I enjoy doing are part of my day job. The only part of my work as a Minister that I do for the money are meetings. I tell people the minute, the second I retire, there will be no more meetings. I have no other skills than the ones I use in Ministry. The only other work that would tempt me to shift vocations is politics. When you think about it in a clear-eyed way politicians and Ministers do very similar work; we visit, we do public speaking, we help organize, we work with volunteers to make good things happen in our neighbourhoods, we work to inform people over there what people over here are doing.
I love to do these things. I would do them as a hobby, as work, as a volunteer, it would not matter. And the role of being “the Minister” means nothing to me. I find collars, gowns and titles more than meaningless, I find they separate me from the very people I am working with. I have enough self-confidence that make professional (as opposed to academic) degrees and titles seem pompous. The truth is the skills required for Ministry and/or politics are the only skills I have and the only skills I enjoy sharing. My mother’s take on me was this, “you are very good at picking some things up quickly, very quickly. If you pick it up right away you will work and work at it until you love it. If you try something once and you can’t master it right away you never try it again. You walk away.” She does have a point. My wife says that I am very good at a very small number of things. Otherwise I am quite useless. The good news is that I know this, I am not a know-it-all. Thus no one has to endure me pontificating on matters I know nothing about.
Which brings me to my point. I know lots of people who do their job as a means to support their family. I completely understand that. When I am at meetings that is how I feel. But then they search for something they love outside of work. Those who find that love generally can find a balance between work they do to make a living and things they do that make life worthwhile. But the dirty secret is that many of the people who complain about their work being meaningless also don’t have anything to do when work ends. For these people retirement only makes matters worse. Everyone who is about to retire should ask themselves if they REALLY have something they can’t wait to do when they walk out the door of their office for the last time.
My advice to people is to look at their current work with fresh eyes. Is there not some part of it that is consistent with something they love to do? Doubling down on activities that overlap between what you are paid to do and what you love to do is a more constructive way forward than complaining all evening, weekends and vacations about not liking your job. Further, life is too short, if you really hate your job it may be time to look elsewhere, provided you really do know what makes you happy.
I know what makes me happy. It is, perhaps, the blessing I am most appreciative for. Ministry gives me the opportunity to do what I love (except for meetings). I pray others find their way to happiness, work or leisure.