Work, faith, world: what do I think?

I’ve been thinking about this lately. I’ve got some questions about my own career path: where next? What do I want to do between now and retirement? I enjoy the challenge – mostly – of being a professional research librarian and I’m grateful for the opportunities I have had in the various law firms and via the SLA. But is corporate law the best place for me to be?

That’s a question that’s been simmering away for a little while. And then today I saw the criticism of the speakers invited to HTB’s Leadership Conference. Folk from Goldman Sachs and Serco were invited to talk about leadership. I had a good, thorough think about this because I wanted to know what my opinion was. Do I agree on learning from leaders wherever? Or not? So here’s a bit of thinking about how following Christ might affect what choices we make.

We all have to make a living (well, everyone I know does – you might have richer friends than me). And we’re all called to different things. If we work in places that are not obviously good (nuclear arms manufacture might be an extreme example of that…) then perhaps our role is to be salt and light in a difficult, pressured workplace. Perhaps by supporting colleagues who are being stressed into a small ball, we get to show love to that person, and be Christ’s light to them.

I understand that reasoning. And indeed when I had a bit of a wobble, I rationalised that wobble using just that argument. The job I was in used my skills, knowledge, intelligence and willingness to teach, help and support others. Personal relationships, and showing people how much they matter to God, help others understand that Christianity is more than just being anti-gay or boring. So all round, that’s a good thing, right?

Except.

Ultimately: should I use my skills, knowledge, intelligence and willingness to help in the service of a company or an organisation that is inherently destructive? Or that is actively causing the increase in the gulf between rich and poor, have and have not? Am I not then directly contributing to the dark side, for want of a better shorthand?

I don’t think so. I don’t think you can separate how the profit is made to pay my salary – and the effect that profit has on my world – from my faith, because Christianity is a 168/hr week commitment. I could be the saltiest salt, and the shiniest light: but working for a company that builds arms, removes services, causes recession means that my skills and energy are making things worse. And I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. And yet. The rent needs to be paid. The bills don’t go away. So how does one square the circle… maintain integrity? Answers on a postcard…

Closing Panel at SLA Chicago – updated

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This is the image I would have spoken about at the closing panel had we had time. It’s last year’s Great North Run. Here’s the fuller version of the thoughts I had about how this relates to me and to our profession.

(I am in the picture – just left of the Stig, blue shirt, beige cap, but it is a bit of a Where’s Wally/Waldo? kind of game).

I used this image because I like to run. I am not fast and I have finishers’ rather than winners’ medals. But I can also draw some parallels here with the wider world of work which hopefully aren’t too hackneyed.

We all have to run our own race and play to our own strengths. I think we need to remember that a natural sprinter would struggle over a longer distance – that we all have natural talents and gifts. The challenge is to find the role that lets us play to those; to understand what we can work on and improve and what other things we’re just best off living with. I think this is a point Mary Ellen Bates made: Work on making your strengths stronger and don’t invest energy into your weaknesses that you cannot change – learn to live with them.

Be aware of the competitive advantage that others have – even if it’s not exactly your ‘thing’ – do they have better processes, resources? Are they keeping up with the race because they’re keeping up with the industry and if so, what tools are they using? Who are they coached by? Friends, family, professionals, membership organisations – all have a part to play at various times. If you have been mentored, when in turn can you mentor? Who can you encourage today?

Sometimes we’re in teams and sometimes we’re on our own – can you adapt your style to deal with both? I’ve recently been running with a friend who, for the first few times, apologised for being slower than me. Now that to me is daft – I wouldn’t have invited her to run with me had that been a problem; and the benefit of an early morning buddy far outweighs the disadvantage of a slightly slower pace. I’ve adapted to a different pace and to enjoy that run for what it is. In Chicago, I was the one slowing the group down.

Nothing is permanent. Everything is for a season, and expecting to be able to progress by standing still isn’t going to work. If I stopped on the Tyne bridge because I liked that view, pretty soon all the other runners would have moved on and I’d be out of the race. If I never invested in my own development and training, I’d soon be an ineffective or limited information professional.

Updated July 23 2012