Leadership Workshops Got Me Like Whoa

You are the author of your life.

You must envision your life, create the design, and make it happen.

You hold all the power.

I couldn’t help but hesitate when I heard those words during a leadership workshop this week. The career coach leading the session explained how we must be the leaders of our own lives. She said we must make moves to achieve our dreams, and we must recognize our power to do whatever we want. That it’s ultimately up to us.

If I’m honest, everything this woman was saying is my default mode. I set goals, I make them happen, and then I keep striving for more. Hell, that’s how I got to New York City in the first place. I landed internships, I networked like mad, and I worked (and worked and worked) until I landed a job and was able to relocate here. I saw myself as a writer and editor in the Big Apple, and I made it happen.

But did I really?

How much of my life is really my own doing, and how much of it is the Lord’s path for me?

This is something I legitimately struggle with. I feel like I need to have a plan. I need to figure it all out. The longer I sat in this leadership workshop, the more my anxiety level went up. Everyone volunteered their visions for the future. They shared what they’re doing to further their careers and to truly make an impact in the workplace.

Shoot, what is my plan? Where am I going with my life? Am I really called to New York City? Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing? What’s next for me?

If I had to guess, I would venture to say that I’m not the only 20-something with these thoughts. In fact, I bet there are 30-somethings, 40-somethings, and soon-to-be retirees going through the exact same thought process. It’s that culturally pervasive do-more, be-more mentality.

The leadership workshop brought up some good points, for sure. It’s important to think about the future and what I desire professionally and personally. I do think I can take a more active role in my job and invest in the work I’m doing. Even if it’s not where I envisioned myself, I can still embrace it and show up giving 100 percent every day. Doing so is a service to my coworkers, my company, and to God.

I have to balance working toward goals with surrendering my will to the Lord’s. I’m still learning how to do this. Because, yes, I want a fulfilling career--but when this career coach asked me precisely what that looks like, I couldn’t quite answer. I’m trying to navigate life one step at a time. I want to do good work and consider my future, yet keep my hands open to what else might come my way.

We are given free will and the opportunity to set goals. We can envision our lives, and I think there’s plenty of goodness that comes with that. I desire a fulfilling career, a thriving blog, and a way to minister to women. I desire a husband and a family. I desire health and happiness, a strong community around me, and an ever-deepening relationship with God. I can envision all of these things.

My tendency is to white-knuckle grip my hopes and dreams. And that's what this workshop made me think, that I need to make my dreams more quantifiable and then make them happen already. Except circumstances can change. When life looks different than I expected, I really struggle. For the first season of my life, I’m not exactly clear where I’m going professionally or what the next step should be. And maybe that’s a really good thing.

Maybe for the first time I’m being forced to surrender, forced to recognize I don’t hold all the cards.

I have often felt like I need to justify my existence and make my life count. For me, this longing usually shows up in the areas of career and relationships. I have this deep-rooted sense that these things will make my life complete. They will allow me to look back on the life I’ve lived with a sense of satisfaction. I need these things.

In the ever-wise words of Tim Keller:

Everybody needs to feel that they’re doing something that justifies them being here. I feel I need to earn my stay. I feel I need to say, ‘Here’s why my life counts. Here’s why my life is worthwhile. Here’s how I get a sense of validity and acceptability.’

If you really really believe what you know in your head about free justification, would you be anxious? Won’t you admit that in many cases your wealth isn’t just your wealth, your beauty isn’t just your beauty, your youth isn’t just your youth, your family isn’t just your family. They’re your righteousness. But now a perfect righteousness is revealed apart from the law of performance. It’s a righteousness that comes to you, and it’s the end of your struggle.

Can I get an amen for free justification by faith?

My life is justified and I'm made righteous by faith alone. That's grace, and that's the most wonderful gift there is. 

We can only control so much. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having desires and visions for the future. In fact, I think God wants us to dream big! The key is to hold those dreams loosely. Because as much as I love gripping the pen in my hand, the author of my life is someone way more powerful and knowledgeable than I am. He’s writing the story, and He promises to make it a darn good one.

Hey, Girl, It's Time To Let Go Of That Pride

Guys, I’ve been struggling to write this post for two weeks now. I’ve been going over and over what exactly I want to write, and it’s been harder to write than some of my other posts. I want it to sound eloquent, and I want you to think I’m a great writer. And the fact that that’s the case really speaks to the topic itself.

Today I’m talking about pride, something I’ve never in my life thought I struggled with. Truth be told, I usually shrugged off pride as a male problem. Surely, I don’t deal with that. I’m confident, yes, but I am modest and humble.

Or so I thought.

pride (n.): the quality of state of being proud: as delight or elation arising from some act, possession, or relationship

When your outer self and inner self are in competition, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate where your heart is at. I’m full of modesty and humility—on the outside. On the inside, a swelling sense of pride has bubbled up, and I didn’t know it even existed until very recently. In the past month I have noticed just how much pride plays out in my work and my career, and even in my ability to call myself a New Yorker. I’m a prideful person, and I have been too proud to really see that or admit that until now.

You see, for most of my life, I’ve been working toward a career in journalism and magazines. I received a journalism degree from a world-renowned program, I completed multiple internships, and I worked (and worked and worked) so I could land an editorial job at a magazine in New York City. I left my small and comfortable suburban home and moved to the big city. I relished this place for its high energy and for the sheer volume of busy, career-driven people surrounding me every day. I began to climb the ladder. I was the girl who could not only handle New York City but who could thrive here. I had an impressive and glamorous job to show for it. Magazine editor. I really liked the sound of that.

I moved from a print magazine to a digital magazine, where I received a title upgrade and extra responsibility to boot. I worked closely with the editor-in-chief. Much was expected of me, and I grew to love having people rely on me. They demanded a lot of me. As a major force at this small startup, I worked longer hours with more items on my to-do list—and more at stake—than ever before.

In other words: I made it, and I am awesome.

I was living out my long-desired dream to be a magazine editor. I was the girl that I wanted to be, but that confidence was less about who I am as a person and more about my title and my status. I was blind at the time to how much I enjoyed the look of my life. I got a lot of fulfillment from my work. Too much so. That fulfillment meant I was in a good place with trusting the Lord and His plan for my life.

But eventually I got tired. More than tired, actually. I was exhausted. My mom came to visit me during this season, and she told me she had never seen me so worn out. “A 24-year-old just shouldn’t be this stressed,” she said. She was right. I was burned out in my magazine position, and I was incredibly frustrated by the crazy number of layoffs (for even the most seasoned staffers) and restructuring I’d seen in the publishing industry. 

So I spent months praying and thinking about what would be next for me. I prayed for a position with regular hours, benefits, vacation time, and more stability. And by the time summer came around, a new opportunity arose in a corporate job where I could do communications work but have a better work/life balance. When I was officially offered the position, I prayed through it and accepted with excitement and hope.

Fast forward four months. I am able to leave the office around 5 or 5:30 p.m. and work stays at work. I have more free time and more time away from work than I’ve ever had before in New York City. Yet I feel bad about it. I feel as though I need to be doing more, working harder, and working longer in order to be fulfilled. In order to be worthy. 

I miss the creative freedom and artistic expression I had when working at magazines and websites. I am in a corporate job now, so it makes sense that the transition is something I need to get used to. But, really, this hollowness is more than missing creativity. It's because I miss being in-demand. I miss the hustle and bustle, the busyness, and the stress. I miss being able to tell people I work at X magazine and then watch as their eyes light up with recognition and impressiveness. I miss my title: I’m no longer Maggie the magazine editor, the person I strove to be for a very long time.

Magazines are the reason I came to New York City to begin with. They’re the only job I’ve ever known. And I am good at writing and editing. I understand the magazine world and have experience in it. I never planned to leave it. In the four months since doing so, my pride has reared its ugly head. I lost my self-assurance and my steadfast trust in His plan. 

As I was reading Scripture last night, I opened to a passage in 1 Corinthians. I think God knew I was working on this blog post and led me to the words that I needed to be reminded of:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.
— 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Any lack of fulfillment I feel isn’t because of my work itself but because my identity is still wrapped up in my job and my career. It’s because I’ve been wanting to do big things, to exceed expectations, to fulfill my potential as a writer and editor. For so long, I’ve wanted to bring glory to my name, rather than boast in the Lord.

It’s time to change that.

Pride is a socially acceptable sin. To much of the outside world, it looks like a really good thing, as it can so easily be masked as hard work, self-confidence, or the pursuit of vocation. I’m so grateful that God has revealed a deep, damaging pride hidden within me.

I am also grateful that God has answered my prayers with this new job—giving me work/life balance and time to truly rest and press into Him. He has provided so graciously and abundantly, giving me space to invest in community and this blog. These are gifts I don't take for granted, and they're gifts that may end up worth a lot more than unbounded artistic expression in the workplace.

The Lord has put me in a job where I can no longer derive all my fulfillment. And what a good thing that is! Work cannot be my identity, nor can any possession or relationship. I thought I learned this a long time ago, but as I've seen with this new job, I am far from done with learning. It’s a process. The Lord is stripping away my pride and the delight I take in being impressive. By His grace, He is shifting the source of my worth. He's showing me how lately I have been more excited about Maggie the magazine editor, Maggie the writer, Maggie the journalist, and He's helping me turn my focus to Maggie the child of God. Before I was a writer or an editor or a blogger, the Lord made me His daughter—a title I stand assured in above the rest. Everything else can fall away, but nothing will change my status as His child. And I praise God for that.