“Until you make peace with who you are, you'll never be content with what you have.”
― Doris Mortman
Both the secular business world and vocational Christian work are shifting from an emphasis of doing—actions, deeds, performance, and exterior features—to an attitude of being: dealing with the inside/underneath soul which fosters an individual’s mindset. From the secular business world, Joanna Barsh and Johanne Lavoie in an article titled Lead At Your Best appearing in McKinsey Quarterly write, “we often skip ahead to actions. We adopt behavior and expect it to stick through force of will. Sadly, it won’t if we haven’t changed the underlying attitudes and beliefs that drove the old behavior in the first place.”
From the world of Christian Ministry, missiologist R. Daniel Shaw writes in the journal International Bulletin of Missionary Research that missions is undergoing a shift, from doing to being, “a transition is needed from preaching the Gospel to living the Gospel.”
One path on the course from focusing on the doing of work to the being is to know your strengths. Related to occupational/personal strengths is the ecclesial term spiritual gifts. This article will focus on the former over the later but both are related; finding one’s personal strengths are every bit as important to the business world as finding one’s spiritual gifts are to the ecclesial.
If one focuses too much on labor that is outside of personal strengths, fatigue and discontentment can often follow. Author, counselor, and pastor Dr. Ronald Mansdoerfer of Living Truth Ministries once said to me: “you are who you is, and if you are not who you is then you is who you ‘ain’t.’”
It appears that many in the working world are not thriving in their vocation and are functioning outside of their area of giftedness and strength. Beth Stebner writes in New York Daily News, “An alarming 70% of those surveyed in a recent Gallup poll either hate their jobs or are completely disengaged . . . at best, 30% of the 150,000 full and part-time workers surveyed honestly enjoyed their jobs.” This percentage would likely decrease if workers were able to function within their giftedness.
Stephen Covey, 18 years after his seminal work 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, published an additional habit in The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness. In the book, Covey emphasized finding your “voice” described as “unique personal significance.” One way to find this “voice” is to discover one’s gifts and talents, then express them to others. Covey writes in stephencovey.com, “The power to discover your voice lies in the potential that was bequeathed you at birth. Latent and undeveloped, the seeds of greatness were planted. You were given magnificent “birth-gifts”-talents, capacities, privileges, intelligences, opportunities-that would remain largely unopened except through your own decision and effort.”
Covey’s above quote is supported Scripturally. The Bible says in Psalm 139:14 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” The Bible also says every believer is endowed with a manifestation of the Spirit to aid in ecclesial work. These manifestations are meant to build up the church and offer effective service to the kingdom. 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit . . . All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”
Everyone has areas of strength and weakness. If one is not functioning primarily in their area of strength, then weariness can set in. I remember during my time with Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as CRU), by the end of the semester, I was so drained that I did not even have the energy to share the gospel with students on campus, and even remember just offering a student a copy of the 4 Spiritual Laws—an evangelistic track developed by CRU founder—instead of sharing it personally. Functioning outside of my gifting—I did not have the gift of evangelism—left me exhausted. Though the work was very important, it was not the labor I needed to concentrate my main efforts. I do not experience this type of depletion in my current role as Professor.
The Bible is clear that God has endowed His people with a manifestation of His spirit to perform His work in the world. But many do not know how to go about finding their strengths. Some select a college major based on economics and salary after graduation. If 70% of workers are not happy with their professions then it is crucial to start finding strengths/gifts/etc. and begin functioning within them occupationally. How can one go about this journey of self-discovery?
Many diagnostic tests are available like dThe Birkman Method and Strengths Finder. These types of test can offer a profile of individual strengths.
Trying various things is another avenue. For example, when I was young, I taught Bible studies in my church. The experience taught me that I thoroughly enjoyed teaching and I could tell that people were being blessed when I taught. However, in the area of service, I found myself extremely tired if I was engaged too long (though I still need to do it regardless of weakness).
Another way to find our strengths is to ask those—family, friends, church, colleagues, etc.—who know us and have an objective opinion on our strengths. Not everyone will be able to give great input but by and large, a church body or people who know you can affirm your gifting/strengths. When I taught Bible study in our church, people were affirming the fact that I may have the spiritual gift of teaching.
Joanna Barsh and Johanne Lavoie write in McKinsey Quarterly categories for contemplation in seeking to discover personal strengths:
- As a small child. What form of imaginary play do you like most? What characters or roles do you choose? What games attract you most, and who do you get to be in them?
- As a young adult. What activities draw you in so entirely that you lose track of time? What boosts your energy, and what does that say about you?
- As a working adult. Look back to a high point that occurred over the past 18 months. What are you doing? What is the nature of the impact you are having on yourself, others, and the organization?
Answers to these questions can lead us to discover our aptitudes.
Stephen Covey, on his website stephencovey.com, gives four questions to ask oneself related to the above in order to help us find our strengths (or in his definition, voice):
- What are you good at? That’s your mind.
- What do you love doing? That’s your heart.
- What need can you serve? That’s the body.
- And finally, what is life asking of you? What gives your life meaning and purpose? What do you feel like you should be doing? In short, what is your conscience directing you to do? That is your spirit.
If you are one of the 70% that is not happy with their current vocational circumstance, it is time to do a thorough search into the soul for self-discovery of one’s gifts, talents, and passions. A study by Lasse Steiner and Lucian Schneider in the Journal of Cultural Economics found that artists are more satisfied in their work than non-artists. Despite low pay and few jobs, artists exhibited a higher satisfaction level than those who were not working as artists. This study illustrates the importance of finding an occupation that you can function within your strength level. Vocational happiness is correlated with work that is related to areas of talent.
“You are who you is,” are very wise words and godly counsel, because if we are “not who we is then we is who we ain’t,” and end up being less than God intended us to be.
Michael Chung is an Adjunct Professor of Bible and Theology at Houston Baptist University and an Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Christian Formation at Fuller Seminary Texas Extension. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.