Hard But Good

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I’ve been asking God lately to release me from my current place of employment.

Over the past seven years, I’ve explored leaving my current job countless times – going to seminary to become a biblical counselor, going to art school to become a graphic designer, interviewing for same-industry-but-smaller-company procurement jobs, interviewing for different-industry-but-still-major-company procurement jobs, interviewing for management consulting firms… None of them have panned out, and I believe it is because God has not yet “released” me from my current place of employment.

I could, of course (of my own volition) just choose to quit my job, leaving without having another job in place. Some people at my own church have encouraged me to take this “step of faith”, believing that God will only provide me with another job once I have proven my dependence on Him. This might be, but I think God calls us not only to faith but also to wisdom and prudence. Sometimes it takes just as much faith to stay as it does to leave. And I don’t want to leave preemptively, taking matters into my own hands; I believe it is for my good to wait on God’s timing. I’m just hoping He doesn’t decide to put me through 25 years of waiting like Abraham or – worse yet! – 40 years of waiting like Moses!

I’ve been asking for the past few months, “God, do you still want me to stay at my current job?”, and the answer I’ve been getting about my current job is: “It’s not hard, but it’s also not good.”

If I wanted to leave my current job because it was too hard, and I just wanted to quit, that would be a red flag. There is benefit to being long-suffering and learning to be dependent on God. But God doesn’t tend to call us to difficult things just for the sake of the difficulty. The best challenges in life are hard but good, like a solid workout that leaves you both drained and energized. It’s painful but for our betterment. And my current job is not that way. It’s neither hard nor good.

My job is easy. It’s boring. I get paid a ridiculous amount of money to do very basic, menial tasks that are neither fun nor challenging. It would be easy to be complacent, choosing to stay in this easy but unfulfilling, lucrative but simultaneously fruitless station in life. For many people, my current situation is ideal: an undemanding job with high pay. But I don’t believe God is glorified by easy, comfortable complacency with easy payouts that require nothing of us: no discipline, no hard work, not heart investment.

My job is not “hard but good”. It’s comfortable and easy and unfulfilling. That is not the model of the Christian life; it is the antithesis of the Christian life. The Christian life should not be comfortable; it should be challenging. The Christian life should not be unfulfilling; Jesus came that we may have life to the full. And sometimes (often!) experiencing the fullness of life also comes with working hard; working passionately toward something that matters and has impact.

In recent weeks, I have started to see the ropes begin to fray; the ties that bind me to my job are dissolving. Between a deplorable performance review (wrongfully given) last month and an intense meeting with HR yesterday morning, I am starting to see that my time at this company is indeed coming to a close.

I’m not going out the way I wanted to – liked, respected and valued – but fortunately, the ones who actually know me still hold me in high esteem and have even encouraged me that this poor rating is a blessing in disguise. God is working through my critical, close-minded boss to finally release me from a company I’ve been hoping to escape for years.

The rejection and wrongful performance scores are difficult to swallow, but my boss would have no power over me if it were not given to her from above (Rom. 13:1). Jesus promised us that in this world we would have trouble, but take heart! He has overcome the world and is working all things together for the good of those who love Him.

Authentically Aurora

Freedom from Boredom

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Boredom and Restlessness, Boredom and Restlessness, over and over again: This has been the cycle of my life for the past few years. I’ve been so underutilized and unappreciated at work – where I spend 40 hours each week – that I’ve allowed this discontentment to infiltrate the rest of my life.

During seasons of Boredom, I’d click around on the internet all day at work; then come home and eat junk food and watch Netflix until bedtime, starting the routine again the next day. My life became one of comfortable complacency, where I didn’t feel passionate or motivated about anything. I was so disheartened for so many hours during the day that, ironically, my boredom at work sapped all of my energy and rendered me utterly unproductive during my off hours as well.

After a few weeks of Boredom, I’d kick myself into gear and start desperately trying to do something meaningful and significant with my life. I didn’t want to be a binge-watching, dispassionate Netflix couch potato. So I’d enter a season of Restlessness, where I filled my time trying to find new hobbies to learn and new projects to tackle.

I got certified to babysit foster children, but only one family ever called to ask me to babysit. I offered to take maternity or newborn photos for a ministry that helps pregnant teens, but the seemingly excited director of the organization never took me up on my offer to work for free. I’d volunteer for complex analysis at work that never got used, and I stepped up to arrange songs for a choir that ended up being more of a drain than a joy.

After a few weeks of feeling rejected and unappreciated even in my skillful volunteer efforts, I’d return to a season of Boredom. And so this cycle would continue ad nauseam: Boredom and Restlessness.

In July last year, during one particularly uplifting sermon, I sensed God speaking to my heart that he wants to change this cycle. The Christian life was never intended to be boring. And there is no reason for us to be restless, striving desperately for passion and purpose. We’ve been given both identity and purpose that inform our passions. And the new cycle God has spoken over me is Passion and Rest.

I long to throw myself wholeheartedly into what I love. I’m wired to run hard; to be singleminded in the pursuit of my passions. So in seasons where I don’t feel passionate about anything, I feel dead and purposeless. Even in the mundane – which is a natural part of life – I believe we can be passionate about the people around us and investing in them. Any job and any season of life can have something – even the most minuscule or ordinary – that gets us fired up. And I’ve been missing that in my life, but I believe God is ushering me into a new season where my passions are lit anew.

But we also weren’t created to run headlong without a break. We are called to rest – commanded to rest – and this is for our good. Man was not made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made for man. And our Good Shepherd makes us to lie down in green pastures. We shouldn’t protect our rest so that we can be rested when we rest some more; we rest so that we can work hard – get back out there and do good work for God’s kingdom.

So Passion and Rest, Passion and Rest… that is what I’m praying for in this New Season.

Authentically Aurora

Loving Humbling

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I’ve been working at the same company for the past 7.5625 years. To a Baby Boomer, that may only seem like a fleeting moment, but to most Millennials, that seems like a lifetime to spend at one company. I always thought I’d be like a Baby Boomer in that I planned to stay at the same company for 50 years and make my job a true career; to invest in one company and show fidelity and faithfulness and I worked my way up and invested my blood, sweat and tears to make my company a better employer and more profitable company.

But the company where I work has never wanted my blood, sweat and tears in the traditional sense. Only two of the eleven bosses I’ve had over 7.5625 years has wanted to truly see me invest in the company for both my betterment and the betterment of the company as a whole. For the most part, the people I work with – management in particular – want to see us bleed, but only because they draw blood. They want to see us sweat, but only out of fear and intimidation. And they want to see tears because that means their carefully crafted demotivational comments have hit their mark.

Because I work for one of the most widely recognized major oil companies in the world, they are able to hire the best and the brightest. This corporation hires class presidents, valedictorians, visionary students who have founded their own organizations, and PhD students making breakthroughs in the future of biofuels. But rather than channeling that raw intellect and stunning creativity, all of these initially highly motivated self-starters are shoved into The Machine where they are expected to be simply one cog in one wheel, with no insight into or influence over even the most minuscule of process improvements. Don’t think independently. Don’t disrupt The System.

Any genius is called ignorance if it doesn’t fit the mold of the Kool-aid pushing management. Any creativity is stifled when the innovative try to use the very skills for which they were hired. The majority of the most fun, hard-working, creative and brilliant of my colleagues have long since left the company, opting instead to tap into their entrepreneurial spirits or become consultants to companies who will pay them triple to actually listen to the input that was so scorned at my current place of employment.

I have been trying to leave this company for nearly 7 of the past 7.5625 years. I’ve applied to smaller OG companies. I’ve interviewed with Apple in Cupertino. I’ve gone to seminary to become a biblical counselor and taken graphic design courses with plans to start my own design studio. I’ve written music and even released an album on iTunes. I’ve interviewed with consulting firms and, most recently, earned my teaching certification. I am a self-starter who wants to passionately pour myself into my work if only I can find a career and employer who will respect me enough to give me room to deliver.

I’ve been close to leaving this corporation countless times, but nothing has ever panned out. I’ve had offers on the table that were unexpectedly revoked as the market tanked. I’ve had companies that wanted to hire me but were on a hiring freeze. I’ve been faced with hardened hearts, lack of favor and lots and lots of closed doors over the past 7 years. I’ve fought bitterness, anger, hopelessness, despair and doubt about whether God is really good and loving. And what I have come to conclude is that there is a way that seems right to a person, but it is the Lord’s good, gracious, loving will that prevails.

When I was in 2nd grade, I decided that I was going to go to the United States Military Academy at West Point and become an engineer. Ten years later, I was accepted to USMA but fell into deep depression when my high school sweetheart broke off our relationship just months before high school graduation. Physically weak and emotionally despondent, I gave up my offer of admission to someone on the wait list who would actually be able to make it through boot camp. I ended up at a state school and spent most of my freshman year bitter about how I’d let my wayward emotions rob me of a golden opportunity and lifelong dream. But God had a plan.

Three years ago (almost to the day), I said yes to marrying the man I loved. Mere months later, he had an emotional breakdown and called off the already-planned wedding. I faced not only his rejection but also the public humiliation of informing friends, family and coworkers that I was an undesirable woman no longer loved by the man who’d promised to love and protect me. But God had a plan.

Nearly eight years ago when I graduated from college and started work at my current employer, I was on a fast track for senior management. All of my performance reviews and feedback sessions – for a season – said that I had the makings of a Senior Executive at one of the largest corporations in the world. But a VP who’d championed me retired, and the capricious whimsy of our talent forum found another shining star to adore. I was turned over to a manager who despises and disrespects me constantly. But God has a plan.

If I’d gone to West Point, I would surely be a harder, more cynical woman than I am today. Simply to get through that military academy as a woman would have robbed me of much of my God-given softness and femininity. Going to a state school not only humbled me but also gave me experiences that taught me about how women are gifted to show the world about God’s kindness, gentleness and unconditional love in a way that is uniquely feminine.

If I’d married my ex-fiance, I would have been joined to a man who could not and would not lead me spiritually. I would have been lonely in my marriage, yoked to a man whose affection was flighty and temperamental. Instead, I have been given the blessing of knowing what it is to love a man like Seth, whose pure heart and consistent, dependable servant leadership inspire me to become more the woman I’ve been created to be.

And if I’d stayed on the executive fast-track at this company, it would have been harder to leave. I don’t see myself as the kind of woman who would have become a workaholic, sacrificing friendships and family time for career; choosing advancement over integrity. But all of the women I know in leadership at our company behave like men. They have lost their softness; their gentleness; their kindness. They are tough and gritty and entirely masculine in their communications and interactions. That is not the kind of woman I want to be, nor is it who I’ve been created to be.

Each circumstance has been brought with it a painful sense of rejection. Each circumstance has taught humility through humiliation. But each circumstance has been a profound blessing orchestrated by the loving hand of God, who is more concerned with my eternal holiness than my temporal happiness. God is a loving father who wants to give good gifts to his children. Sometimes those gifts look like punishment in the moment, but in time, we are able to look back and realize that our omniscient, omnipotent, unconditionally loving Father knew what he was doing all along.

Authentically Aurora

In Favor of Teaching

those-who-can-do-supercommittee-quoteThe blogosphere tends to be a very supportive place, but in the real world, I get a lot of confused looks or straight-up negativity when people find out that I’m looking into becoming a teacher.

Since I have an engineering degree and successful career therein, people cannot understand why I would leave a cushy, corporate job for the world of education. They have preconceived expectations of my career path based on my background and cannot fathom why I would voluntarily leave a comfortable job in favor of teaching.

Many people subscribe to the old adage “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”, and teachers tend to be compensated accordingly. But not all compensation is financial. And after seven years in corporate America, I submit to you that a more accurate idiom is: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, form a supercommittee.”

I am still volunteering to teach Sunday school a few times a month at my church, and I was recently asked to become an elementary school Team Leader, meaning I will not only continue teaching but also take on more of an administrative, leadership role coordinating the other volunteers. Although it can be stressful at times, teaching these sweet kids at church remains one of my highlights each week.

Last Sunday, we talked about the Creation account – how God created not only the earth but also plants and animals; man and woman. When Mia, one of my 2nd grade girls, heard this story (for possibly the first time), she looked down at her arms and stroked her tanned forearm with a tentative finger, whispering out loud in wonderment, “I’m made from clay?”

We talked more about the creation of Adam and Eve; then Mia asked me privately, “Miss Aurora, is Jesus God?” After hearing about God the Father creating the universe and everything in it, she was confused about the role of Jesus in relation to the Father. The Trinity is a difficult concept even for mature Christians, so I pointed to Mia’s water bottle in an effort to give her a practical, visual explanation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

ozarka6ozMia and I removed the lid of her water bottle, exploring the three parts comprising the water bottle: the bottle itself, the cap and the water within the bottle. All three are separate, but they come together to create the water bottle, just as the Trinity is One God, Three Persons.

A few minutes after my explanation, the girls were working on a craft activity when another girl – Lillian – asked about Jesus. All on her own, Mia picked up her water bottle and explained the Trinity to Lillian just as I had explained it to her minutes earlier! My heart swelled within me to see little Mia teaching Lillian about God. I got to see the exponential effect of Matthew 28:19 lived out right in front of me over the course of mere minutes.

Near the end of our time together, Mia had another question for me. “Miss Aurora, is God invisible?”

I answered her, “Right now He is, but someday we’ll see Him.”

Mia pointed to the purple mat we were sitting on. “Is God sitting right here?” I explained Matthew 18:20 to her and suggested that we could pray and ask God to be with us.

I went on to share with Mia that sometimes – especially if I’m sad – I ask God to sit with me and hold my hand.

Mia’s big brown us looked up at me, and she blinked innocently. “Does He say yes?”

“Yes,” I told her with a hug and a smile. “He always says yes.”

Authentically Aurora

Tests for Teachers

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It’s scary how easy it is to become a teacher.

Suddenly it all makes sense… my medically bipolar Physics teacher (who yelled at students)… my hateful and arrogant Calculus teacher (who emotionally abused students)… my perpetually high German teacher (who likely sold marijuana to students)…

As I have started working on my Teaching Certification, I have been astonished by how simple the process is; how easy it is to become certified to teach the next generation of young minds. All I have to do is: shadow another teacher for 30 hours, take 80 hours’ worth of online lessons, and pass the State exam for my subject matter of choice. I’ve only been at it for a month, and I’m already nearly halfway through.

The quizzes for the online lessons are a joke. For the lesson entitled, “The Importance of Lesson Planning,” one of the questions was something like:

(In case you aren’t sure… remember that the title of the quiz is “The Importance of Lesson Planning”!)

 

In the online lesson about sexual assault in schools, the questions were all like this one:

I don’t even read the lessons most of the time and still get a 100%. It’s no wonder our students are growing up believing that global warming is causing the polar ice caps to recede, pro-life organizations deceive pregnant women into giving birth (this from my 15-year-old cousin at Christmas), and that everyone should be entitled to a “free” college education in America.

The more I explore the possibility of teaching, the more I realize that our country is desperately in need of some good teachers.

Authentically Aurora

 

Why Do You Work?

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Which is more important to you: time or money?

 

Why do you work? To be successful, to maintain a certain standard of living, to find your identity and purpose, or for some other reason?

 

I decided in 2nd grade that I was going to be an engineer. My reasons were varied and diverse:

  • My dad was an engineer, and I wanted to be like him.
  • I enjoyed math and science; problem solving was a fun hobby for me. I was always up for a mental challenge.
  • Smart people become engineers, and I wanted to be thought of as smart and successful.
  • I liked objective subjects, where no one could give me a bad grade without being able to justify their actions (like when I got a C on my first history paper because my teacher “just didn’t think it was well written” even though all of my facts were accurate).

Having earned an engineering degree and having worked at a major oil company for seven years now, I have come to find that working in the business world is not all that I imagined.

  • Though my dad was an engineer, he worked at a small company where he rose through the ranks and set the tone for a culture that appreciated creative problem solving and new ideas. This is not the case at a Major. When my dad’s little company got bought out by a giant, he disliked his once enjoyable career as much as I do now. Although my company recruits creative, self-motivated, intelligent individuals, it takes those brilliant minds and sticks them deep within the confines of The Machine, where they are no more than a cog in the wheel, and all individual thought is not only stifled but punished.
  • Problem solving is fun when dealing with a closed set – like an Agatha Christie murder mystery where all of the suspects are snowed in to a log cabin, minimizing unforeseen variables. But the real world is messy, and there are an infinite number of variables that are impossible to control or calculate into a solution. This is significantly less fun than the problem sets I solved for fun as a kid.
  • As I have written about multiple times, simply having an engineering degree – and even being a well spoken and intelligent person – does not mean that people will think you are smart and successful. My boss thinks I’m incompetent just because our working styles don’t align.
  • Although in school, math homework has a right or wrong answer, in Corporate America, workers get graded based on subjective opinions and perceptions, many of which are more a reflection of the manager than the employee being evaluated.

While our parents worked primarily to earn a living, Millennials are generally driven by a need for purpose and identity; to find meaning in their work. I hate to ever be a part of the crowd, but of late, I find myself fitting the generalization. Money is not much of a motivator for me. At this stage of life – having experienced all that I have at the hands of Corporate America – I would rather earn less and be more fulfilled in my work. Which is why I have started working on my Teaching Certification in the hopes of teaching junior high math.

Some fellow Christians will tell me (and have told me) that I should find my identity in Christ and not in my job. That’s true, but that’s no reason to stay at a miserable job. The bible says in Ecclesiastes that “there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work” (2:24), and again, that “that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work” (3:22).

Some lower-income friends will tell me (and have told me) that money is not a motivator now because I’ve never had to go without. While that may be true, I imagine there is a lot of character development to be had from learning to restrict spending as a result of voluntarily taking a pay cut.

Some friends will tell me (and have told me) that every job will have its frustrations and disappointments. While I acknowledge that to be true, I also believe that – if every job has its challenges, and every work environment has a couple of “difficult personalities” to deal with – I may as well enjoy the work itself. I’ve spent seven years not enjoying my workload in addition to dealing with difficult people.

There have been countless closed doors over the past seven years of trying to change careers. But I’m prayerfully considering yet another attempt at a new career path, and hopefully God sees fit to swing the right door wide open, whether it’s teaching or something else I have yet to even consider.

I’m hoping it’s teaching though. After all, teachers have the best blogging material.

Authentically Aurora