Defining a Successful Career

Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

I went on an adventure in early December. Let’s begin the tale at the beginning: a few years ago I learned that a professor at Marquette University had a collection of Tolkien manuscripts that he periodically allowed individuals to tour. It took me approximately 5 seconds to arrange a date and time for the next private exhibition. 

Unfortunately, the date and time were in 2020. Two polite reschedules later, he stopped sending emails of new dates. No one knew when the collection would be viewed again—why continue pretending we did?

All this led me to check the status in November, and what do you know? The collection was out for a big exhibition at the university until Christmastime, and tickets were available. I chose to make it a whole day of adventure by also booking an Amtrak to Milwaukee. Train rides, Tolkien manuscripts, and no driving headaches on I94 between two cities? I was IN. 

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Tolkien rocked my world in 2001 when I first met his work. He did it again in 2022 last month, when I can say that after 21 years of devoted passion, I’m pretty well acquainted with that work.

I don’t know your lifelong struggles, but I have some typical ones for an enneagram 5. The zeal to be seen as competent. The deeply ingrained scarcity mindset. These two join forces to haunt me with my greatest fears. What if I never “make my mark”? What if I never live up to that “promising future” people talked about so long ago? What if, after all, I’m only mediocre at everything I’ve done, personally and professionally?

At my age, these things should be past tense, after all, and still searching the horizon for promise seems a fool’s errand. 

The thoughts have haunted my last couple years, especially. Other people wept at Hamilton when his son died. (OK, I wept then too—I’m not heartless.) The part that had me sobbing? When Burr bows his head and recognizes in the despair of the too late—“I should have known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.” Scarcity mindset, with tragic results, right there for all of us caught in it to see. The world is wide, but some of us have more Aaron Burr in us than we can comfortably handle.

Back to Tolkien. A man so enamored with the world of Middle-earth he was building that he created languages for it. Detailed, logically-cohesive languages. So in love with his hobbits be calculated the stride of a hobbit and the ground one could reasonably cover so that the distances in his writing were manageable in “real” life. So committed he created maps and diaries that he singed, tore, dyed, and dampened in order to make the antiquity of them real. He charted the moon phases and years and days of events in his created world so that his prophesies would coincide, again, in “real” life. No created world in literature has this level of detail and accuracy, which contributes enormously to making his work feel “right” to his readers. 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

His contemporaries thought his time could have been spent on more scholarly publications. His publisher tapped impatient toes for 17 years from request for a Hobbit sequel to publication. The Lord of the Rings didn’t disappoint waiting readers. Hobbit readers had grown up, and they recognized its genius. Yet most people who surrounded Tolkien thought his quirky obsession a huge waste of time. He never even finished what he considered his master work, decades in the making.

Something exploded on my mind in that exhibit, as it had twenty-one years before. Then, it was the beauty of the heroic quest to do the right thing with the time we’re given. Now, it was the recognition of a life profoundly successful, but not because of best seller lists or blockbuster movies.

JRR Tolkien devoted himself to something he loved. He put every piece of his heart into creating a world and creating it well. What others may have called obsessive he called devotion to a call. In fulfilling that call, he crafted a hope that shone through his world, and the world of his readers.

He devoted himself to doing something he loved well, and he offered hope in the doing. 

What else is there? When we look for our life’s promise, what would we want other than Paul’s holy trinity of faith, hope, and love? (For as we know, Tolkien did nothing without faith, too.) Whether we’re mediocre in the end or not, what could we choose but the honest working out of faith, hope, and love? When we look to find the success of our lives, that legacy Hamilton searched for, what more could we ask than that we were found to do what we loved, do it well, and do it in a way that infused it with hope? 

He did it again. Tolkien took something that’s bedeviled me for a while and he laid it out plain in front of me, in those edit-filled cursive loops, scribbled calculations, detailed datelines, and fake-blood stained pages. Waste twelve years writing Lord of the Rings? Hardly. He was building a world and inviting us along into it. Hope and love take time. Faith informs them both. Nothing done in service to the three of them is wasted.

Shame, Blame, and What Should Have Been

luma-pimentel-1vnB2l7j3bY-unsplash
Photo by Luma Pimentel on Unsplash

Early Days

My parents married when I was already on the way. This was supposed to be information we never figured out, I guess. Both had come out of unsuccessful first marriages. Dad had four kids; mom had two. Both had full custody. You could have called us the Brady Bunch, but that would not have been an appropriate comparison for how we made it work, which, apparently, wasn’t that well.

I thought we did. I was the youngest of seven—what did I know except that our happy world centered on me, the baby? I had no idea until later it wasn’t so happy for the others.

I was the product of the marriage that should have been, I think. The only child of the one that worked. Neither ever spoke of their first marriages. I suspect my parents wanted to forget, to forge ahead into the family that “should have been” had their “mistakes” never happened. But that’s impossible when the evidence of those relationships surrounded us daily in the form of six siblings whom I considered absolute sisters and brothers but time has proved not so much.

That focus on what should or could have been cost us all dearly.

This Sounds Familiar

foto-pettine-IfjHaIoAoqE-unsplash
Photo by Foto Pettine on Unsplash

This is where we are in the Bible story. Rebekah and Isaac married and had two children who struggled, literally: Jacob and Essau. Their issues were nothing compared to the drama of Jacob’s not-so-blended family hot mess.

if you’re not familiar with the story, read it here.

TL;DR: Jacob wanted to marry Rachel. Through some extreme (fairly deserved) trickery, he got Leah instead. He eventually got both, and after ten sons he finally had a son by Rachel—Joseph. Instead of making everything all better, though, this turn of events made it all worse.

Joseph represented to Jacob all that should have been. He was the son who should have been first. The son from the marriage that should have been the only marriage. Joseph should have had the firstborn fatherly blessing if life had played fair with Jacob (a pot calling the kettle black scenario if ever there was one).

So foolishly, Jacob makes happen what his dreams and regrets believe should have happened. Even though the evidence of his other relationships in the form of ten children surrounded him. Joseph, as the youngest before Ben came along, probably looked at his ten big brothers and thought they hung the moon and stars. He probably considered them his best friends, adored and wanted to be just like them.

I know how this story goes.

ben-rosett-RBouLnm0L0Q-unsplash
Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash

Share the Love

His sibs were not on board with all that. Jacob so absorbed himself in his alternate universe where all the should’ve would’ve could’ve’s in his head had finally come true, that he neglected to consider how it might affect the other ten real people. He played them like extras in the chorus and expected somehow that they would love the star of the show as much as he did.

The fact that they sold Joseph into slavery instead must have come as something of a shock to dad much later when that little tidbit came to light.

It’s a big mistake to live in dreams rather than reality.

It’s the breeding place for resentment, blame, and shame. Three solid curses that come straight out of the Fall.

Shame.

You know those brothers first convinced themselves that had they been better sons, Dad would have loved them more. They didn’t understand the dynamics of his life before them anymore than I did my parents. Assuming they were to blame for his lack of attention makes sense. Most kids do that. The deep shame they must have felt for being “inadequate” sons fueled the smoldering fire of anger at little brother more than anything else, I’m sure.

marcos-paulo-prado-YMQiKI2L1z0-unsplash

We see it as a story of jealousy. I believe shame came first.

Do We Do This?

For a long time, I’ve condemned myself for not being further along in my career. Why aren’t I where I want to be/should be? Why didn’t I work harder? Why didn’t I put in more time/effort/networking etc to be living a different professional life?

I’ve finally looked those lies straight on and realized the terrible attacks they are.

There are a number of reasons for where my career is, and lack of a will to work is not one of them. It’s easy to look at all the should have beens and blame yourself for them. Rarely do we look at all the other factors we had no choice in. Focusing on the fantasy world of where I should be shames me into not being what I could be now.

The brothers focused on what they should have been to be loved, but the lie was in the one who didn’t love, not in the ones waiting for it. They were never deficient. They had no choice. The fantasy world lie shamed them and kept both brothers and father from being the parent and siblings they could have been in the now.

If I had chosen a different career . . .

If I had gotten better grades . . .

If the pandemic hadn’t hit when it did . . .

All of these are birthed in the same lie.

I should be at a place in life that I’m not. Shame on me.

Blame and Resentment.

So the brothers shift their anger at themselves to another target. Little Bro. Little Joe. It’s all his fault. He’s daddy’s favorite. He’s full of himself. The truth they’re not admitting that makes them so resentful though is this—He’s got what they want. All of daddy’s love.

It’s not Joseph’s fault, and they know it. He makes a good scapegoat though, and blame and resentment don’t care about collateral damage. They only want someone to hurt the way they’re hurting.

jaime-spaniol--L0N74GWsq8-unsplash
Photo by Jaime Spaniol on Unsplash

Yes, We Do This

As a teen and young adult, I was very good at resentment. I disliked everyone who had what I wanted, and I wanted a whole list of things, primarily acceptance. Acceptance looks like so many things that we don’t think we have, from good hair to a good job.

I’m still good at it if I let it happen.

If I had married someone else . . .

If my parents had done a better job . . .

If my boss saw how valuable I am . . .

All of these are birthed in the same lie.

I should be at a place in life that I’m not. Shame on them.

Good Shame Versus bad Shame

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t fight for good, valuable things that should be. Never stop making God’s good kingdom a reality on earth as it is in heaven! It also isn’t to say, “Hey, if you had lousy circumstances just accept it and move on.” God’s people are called to right wrongs and bring justice forward. Especially in this time, do not confuse unhelpful blame and shame with helpful calling out of societal shame and brokenness. Living in a communal world of “what ought to be” is a very good thing.

What I am saying is this. Living in a personal world of should’ve would’ve could’ve’s destroys the life we have right now. It ruins relationships. It paralyzes us in the present. It blinds us to opportunities in our abundant present life.

It does no favors for the future, either.

Lies of a fantasy world we could be in but aren’t help no one in living the life we are in. If only’s only convince us a better option would be easier than working to hold on to the one we have. Let Jacob be a warning echo. Fighting for and appreciating the good in what is brings far more joy than imagining, pretending, or resenting what isn’t.

More than Enough

yujia-tang-FonWAEN-H-U-unsplash
Photo by Yujia Tang on Unsplash

There’s a story that Captain Cook met aborigine people when he came to Australia and asked what that odd, large grey jumping animal was. He’d never seen anything like it. The story goes that they replied—”kangaroo.” The translator on board ship told them this meant “I don’t know,” and a legend was born. Generations of people have been told that “kangaroo” means “I don’t know.”

This is not, in fact true. But it’s a fun story, and we use it at our house whenever we want to mess with one another, which is fairly often.

There’s a similar Bible story that, unlike this one, is true.

helena-yankovska-QXSvbDkiJmY-unsplash
Photo by Helena Yankovska on Unsplash

What is It?

God and Moses lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and toward the promised land. The process is slow. The story itself is fascinating—far more interesting and nuanced than I have been led to believe by Bible teaching I’ve heard—and it will be a blog post for another day. (Meantime, there’s a five-minute conversation on it here.)

When the people complain that Moses is leading them into starvation and they will all die there in the terrible wilds (the Israelites knew how to do drama), God does something amazing.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Look, I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they will gather food, and when they prepare it, there will be twice as much as usual.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the Israelites’ complaints. Now tell them, ‘In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will have all the bread you want. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

The next morning the area around the camp was wet with dew. When the dew evaporated, a flaky substance as fine as frost blanketed the ground. The Israelites were puzzled when they saw it. “What is it?” they asked each other. And Moses told them, “It is the food the Lord has given you to eat. These are the Lord’s instructions: Each household should gather as much as it needs.

So the people of Israel did as they were told. Some gathered a lot, some only a little. But when they measured it out, everyone had just enough. Each family had just what it needed.

Then Moses told them, “Do not keep any of it until morning.” But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. Moses was very angry with them.

After this the people gathered the food morning by morning, each family according to its need. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much as usual—four quarts for each person instead of two.

(On the Sabbath) They put some aside until morning, just as Moses had commanded. And in the morning the leftover food was wholesome and good, without maggots or odor. 

The Israelites called the food manna. It was white like coriander seed, and it tasted like honey wafers. Exodus 16.4-31

They called it manna—roughly translated—“What is it?”

The thing we need to see right now is something God makes sure we see several times.

Enough Is Enough

Each family had exactly enough.

When they tried to gather more than they needed, it got stinky. When they didn’t believe God would give them all they needed, they chose to gather more, to hoard the manna for themselves, and the results were a mess.

Not only are flies and mold gross, but they could spread disease in the camp. Taking more than one needed was dangerous for everyone.

Look at how beautifully God exceeded their expectations—

  • Food “rained down”
  • There was enough“bread to satisfy,” not just enough
  • He gave “all the bread you want”
  • He “blanketed” the ground with food

These aren’t words of scarcity. They’re words of abundant, gracious, abandoned love that gives for the fun of it, more than we actually need. Yet, I know I distrust, too.

I know I hoard things, Maybe not bread, but certainly other things. Knowledge. Career goals. Time. Plans. As a certified enneagram 5, I believe in my soul that there will never be enough for me to do and try and know all that I want. So I, too, gather more and more, unaware or unbelieving that God has rained goodness down on me, and all I need is to take what I need.

Taking too much leads to an inability to filter, sort, and make use of it all anyway. I feel paralyzed by the choices and can’t see a clear path forward. The things I want get moldy, old, tired, and icky.

This feels particularly relevant at a time when we can’t even find toilet paper on our grocery shelves because some people were certain they wouldn’t have enough if they didn’t take all they could pick up.

Fear and Distrust

What drove the Israelites to gather more than they were told? To not trust God when he said he had enough for all?

Fear. Fear from their days as slaves. Fear that “enough” had never been true and never would be true, unless they looked out for themselves. Fear that couldn’t believe the God who created them and parted the Red Sea but somehow could trust in their own ability to stock the shelves with all the things they didn’t really need in the moment but wanted to make sure no one else had more of.

163DF99F-5A55-4F75-8276-1E759D57BEAE

God sent enough manna for everyone to have what they needed-but some believed they had to have more than they needed, and thus, other had to have less.

God wanted to establish a community of his people who would care more for the community than for themselves. If not, he knew they wouldn’t make it in the difficult challenge of settling the promised land. If they did create a community where each looked out for the other, nothing could stop them.

God Created Community on/for Purpose

That old Garden mandate—forge relationships, be your brother and sister’s keeper—comes back again. It’s almost as if God really meant that.

It’s what God has wanted from the beginning. A people who look at the needs of others as everyone’s needs.

This season of pandemic is proving what happens when fear talks louder than the Word of God. We hoard. We take from others. We choose ourselves and our rights over the vulnerable. Unfortunately, we see people who bear the name of Jesus doing these very things.

We’re all human. We all bear the marks of trauma, especially in this time of rampant fear. God knows that. Yet God offers to rain down on us what we need. Not more than that—but why should we want more than that?

8D91F513-711E-4520-A669-D011FE175219

Take what we need. Leave the extra for another. Give up rights for the sake of a sister in need of protection. These are the building blocks of God’s kingdom people. We might be a people who fear at times—but we are not a people ruled by fear. We are a people beloved by a generous God. And it is enough.

How to Help Your Kids Overcome Jealousy and Insecurity

P1050504(Sibling rivalry does not have to come to this.)

“Mommy, is she going to be better at everything than me?”

I hugged my dripping wet tiny seven-year-old. At the end of our girls’ first swimming lessons, what I had dreaded the whole six week session happened.

The younger got promoted to the next level and her big sister didn’t.

Bigger and more athletic than her older sister, she simply had better motor skills, a higher attention span, and more courage at that young age. Big Sister struggled with a mix of hurt and jealousy.

“Am I always going to be not as good?”

I struggled, too.

I mean, given their genetics, none of our children were ever going to be athletically coordinated, let alone gifted. As the larger and stronger child, though, her little sister did have an edge. What to say to this little wet waif, certain that she would always be at the end of every performance test?

I’m checking in at A Fine Parent today with this article on children, jealousy, and how to find abundant praise for everyone, no child left behind!

Read the whole post here.