I'm currently on a leadership sabbatical. I've found that I always need some time to myself after spending multiple consecutive years serving in leadership roles, teams, etc. At this time, however, I have had to let go of some pretty big motivators for me such as financial security and trying to make something of myself that others will look to and want to follow (because of my credentials, expertise, etc.). It may make more sense once you realize that I'm currently in a PhD program. It may also make more sense once you realize that I'm making somewhat of a career transition. This means that I have limited finances and am in a season of my life where credibility, expertise, etc. will be redefined and my skills will likely be undervalued. Usually, this results in cycles of me having to "prove myself". But I'm done with that nonsense.
I had a time of heart reflection this morning that reminded me of the kind of professional I don't want to be and the reason why I always need to take a break from leadership. Here are two bible verses that jumped out at me:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth...For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
I've read these verses before but it wasn't until today that things clicked. I have been feeling a sense of unease about what it means to be in a public service career and what it means to lead others well. It often feels like specific skill sets, connections, and/or prestige are the true reason that people enter into public service jobs- not the heart to serve. I understand that we all have different motivations and needs, however, I am concerned that those of us who wish to truly show love to others and serve from a genuine place of humility can become trapped by the following:
Selfish ambition...fuels the exploitation and manipulation of others in order to reach certain positions or places of success in life
Bitter jealousy...fuels anger, hatred, infighting and fosters unsafe relational environments
A Savior Complex...fuels the idea that one is indispensable; fosters pride based on one's "goodness"; allows individuals to feel that they are more superior than others because of their career choices, lifestyle choices, etc.; does not allow the ones being "saved" to change their own narratives (in essence trapping individuals and seeing them as less than human)
This is where I stop to reflect. For as long as I have been in leadership and service roles I have witnessed and been on the receiving end of the above motivations and complexes. For as long as I've been in public service roles I have witnessed and been on the receiving end of the above motivations and complexes. The busier the setting the worse it is. The more resource-strapped the setting the worse it is. The more overlooked one's skills and contributions are the worse it is.
I started on my leadership journey at a younger age than most, so this isn't to say that I haven't been guilty of the above motivations and behaviors. I have been guilty of them. I have made mistakes that led me to reflect on why I was leading, what my values were, how my involvement was or wasn't aligned with my values, etc. The times I dropped the ball, I was so shaken up that I had to ask "What happened"? I had to take pauses in order to check my heart. Ultimately, these pauses have taught me how to say no; be bold enough to leave, exit, quit; and have given me the vision to be a different kind of leader since my ultimate role model is Jesus. If I want to reflect God's love to others then I have to look up to have my cup filled and find the examples that make sense for the kind of life I want to live.
For the past 15-20 years my goal has been to develop a skill set that I can use to serve others (individuals, organizations, communities) domestically and internationally if needed/given the opportunity. My leadership roles, titles, credentials are all for this one purpose. I aim to have credibility and expertise so that I can serve others. I am not interested in seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge... It confuses people at times to know that this is not my goal/motivation. However, if I want to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God (Micah 6:8, another bible verse) then I have to stay focused. Focused on leading others well and not giving them unnecessary burdens, making sure that my identity is not solely tied to what others think of me or my accomplishments, and figuring out ways to take care of my own heart and use my skills with humility to serve. This is the kind of professional I want to be. This means I may be someone that fades into the background. But, I don't care. Being refreshingly boring, a safe place, rested, loving, agenda-less is something that appeals to me more and more each day.
After taking some time to process, I now understand what has been bothering me over the past 10 years and what has propelled me to put aside involvement or leave organizations completely. I better understand what has caused me to recoil internally: examples of selfish ambition, bitter jealousy, savior complexes (aka environments that lack true justice, humility, and mercy).
This blog series is focused on Priorities.
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1. How often do you examine and reflect on what's in your heart?
2. If you are in a service-related job, how do you keep your heart soft in ways that allow you to acknowledge others as fully human (i.e. not projects, customers, data points, other, research projects, guinea pigs, etc.)?