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When Our Work is a Lifeline

March 21, 2016


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Work is a complicated thing. It’s often hard – it’s supposed to be! – and events in the workplace can leave us frustrated at the end of the day, in need of a hot cup of tea and a hug. But our work can also be life-giving, fuel us, and provide meaning and importance in our lives.

My work has always been my passion, but I can think of three times when my job was a lifeline in a fierce storm. My top five strengths, according to the Strength Finders 2.0 test, are Achiever, Connector, Arranger, Belief and Self-assured. These trials left me drained of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy. My work, on the other hand, provided an outlet for me to achieve, connect, and arrange my life in another sphere as I was dealing with personal trials, giving me the energy to persevere through the storms.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 9.15.59 AMI was devastated when I finally came to the conclusion that my marriage of eleven years needed to end. I vividly remember going into work and sharing with my boss that I had decided to file for divorce. Several colleagues at Trammell Crow Company, where I worked at the time, stepped up and filled great needs in my life during my divorce. At the time I had worked there for over seven years, and these colleagues met me where I was at and provided a lifeline of support during that tumultuous time. My boss acknowledged my dedication to the company, expressed his sincere apology for what I was going through, and allowed me to take time and space as I needed to process the divorce. He lived up to that promise over the next twenty months until my divorce was finalized, and knowing that my boss would be flexible with me as the divorce transpired gave me the sense of peace I needed to keep going. A colleague of mine, Sue Bird, made herself available to me 24-7 by phone. She is a dear friend to this day and I am grateful she supported me through the many transitions during and after a divorce. The CEO of Trammell Crow Company, Don Williams, offered his ski house to my family so we could take some time away to process together and find joy in the midst of the trial. Without the support of my workplace, I would not have survived those twenty months.

jjohnstone@4wordwomen.org

Another time my work was a lifeline for me was during a period when my son made a series of bad decisions. During the scary four years that Christian acted like a “prodigal son” (you can read more about that time from his perspective here), CBRE (formerly Trammell Crow Company) and my amazing leaders came to my rescue time and again. While I continued to work through this season, I knew that I needed to be home with Christian, who had moved back home before going to college. We had just sold our company to CBRE and I had been made president of a division, overseeing 4,500 employees and a $600 million business serving our largest clients. While this transition demanded a great amount of time and energy from our whole team, my boss was completely understanding of my need to take Christian to school in the mornings, pick him up from school and then pick him up again from work. I knew my only options were to work remotely, or resign. My boss and my team were completely understanding of my need to be with Christian and graciously accommodated my schedule, supporting me through this time of trial. I am so grateful for their servant leadership and ability to be flexible.

Over the past several months, my daughter Annie has suffered from an impacted sciatic nerve, causing her extreme and 24/7 debilitating pain. It has been 4word and the amazing women partnering with me that have given me energy and a purpose during this tough time. Through 4word, I am able to channel my strengths to build an organization that I believe in, giving me meaning and purpose during the 17 long months that I’ve watched Annie suffer through this painful trial. Here is an excerpt from a blog I wrote about that time called “Why Does God Allow Suffering?”:

856281_560021677413840_2099733953_oI have never gone through anything as horrible as watching my daughter, Annie, suffer through ten months of debilitating pain. Oh, I’ve experienced suffering before… a divorce, a rebellious teenager, the loss of my parents… but this tops it all. Taking care of this recently thriving young woman through her chronic pain and the resulting depression and hopelessness has been, at times, more than I thought I could bear.

I cried out to God like King David did while he was under much distress. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest” (Psalm 22:1-2, NIV). I asked God, “Why my daughter? Why my family? Why me?” My cries and questioning led me to an important central question.

My work was a lifeline in many ways during these three trials: a place where I could channel my strengths when I was being drained of energy elsewhere in my life; something to fuel my passion and purpose when life seemed out of control; and a resource for support from bosses and colleagues alike when I needed people to walk with me and lift me up. However, we can have the opposite experience when we are not pursuing our unique, God-given callings, too.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 10.01.15 AMMy last full-time corporate role was not a place where I could pursue God’s unique calling in my life. The company I worked for didn’t share my values and the role I was in did not utilize my strengths. Instead of being shown servant leadership and given room to prioritize my family, the opposite was true. For the first time, I felt empty, had no energy, and didn’t enjoy my work. I wrote about the importance of finding a workplace that shares your value in “Work, Love, Pray.” We often spend more time in our workplaces than anywhere else, and spending that much time in an environment that clashes with your values will leave you emotionally and spiritually drained. I believe my time in this difficult role was God’s way of getting me to where he has called me to today as the Founder and Executive Director of 4word, but the process was painful.

It is so important for women to discover and pursue meaningful work in their lives – not just a paycheck. These roles, whether paid or volunteer, outside the home or in, will be a lifeline in many of life’s storms and fuel and sustain you through trials. While we all experience seasons where our jobs are not aligned with our values and passions, God has called us to seek His vision for our lives and pursue His calling. He has uniquely created you to fulfill a purpose only you can fill. As Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 10.00.52 AMMaybe you’re stuck in a job that doesn’t fuel and sustain you. How can you discover the work you were created for? Closely examine yourself and ask God to show you how he made you. You may not think you have time in your busy schedule for a few quiet moments of introspection, but you do. Identify your core values so you can find a company whose values align, or at the very least don’t clash, with yours. Invest in tools like StrengthsFinder 2.0 to discover and understand your strengths, and ask those you work with or who know you well what they think your strengths are. Also, be sure to think about what you’re passionate about. What motivates you to jump out of bed in the morning to tackle the day? Is it your children, a cause you support, or even your job? The Bible tells us we are “uniquely and wonderfully made.” Try to find meaningful ways to incorporate your passions into your work and it will fuel you in new ways.

Finally, get creative! Not every aspect of your job will be meaningful, but find what brings you joy in the workplace and ask to pursue them. I’ve always loved to mentor others, and I found outlets for mentorship in the corporate world. Now, I get to make mentoring my focus every day through 4word, and it is so exhilarating and energizing for me! Discovering who you are and how God made you allows you to make intentional decisions about where you work and how you spend your time.

Your work can be a lifeline in a storm, or feel like it’s squeezing the life out of you. Take the time to discover your unique strengths and calling and pursue that in your work. Maybe this means taking a risk and leaving a job that drains you, or maybe this means approaching your boss about opportunities you see at work where your passions and calling meet a need. Meaningful work is worth fighting for.

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2 responses to “When Our Work is a Lifeline”

  1. Amy Hunt says:

    Diane, this is incredibly encouraging. Life involves storms. It’s inevitable. How we tend to our truest selves by being attentive to our greatest needs is the key to peace and joy. We certainly can’t control what happens in life but we can learn to be flexible and kind to ourselves and I believe that getting curious about how we can place ourselves in situations and roles that utilize our strengths the majority of the time, reduces unnecessary stress and gives way to experiencing love. I could talk with you all the livelong day and hope for that someday.

  2. 4word says:

    […] When Our Work is a Lifeline […]

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