“Man, tomorrow’s meeting is going to be a BLOODBATH.”
That’s my buddy, describing a conversation with a client. I said, “Really, Nick? Isn’t that a stretch?” I mean, these guys don’t even bring swords to meetings. But it got me thinking because we all feel like that sometimes. Life’s a friggin battlefield. Work is hard. Friends are hard. Relationships are hard. Kids are hard. Shoot, maybe it IS going to be a bloodbath tomorrow. So I started thinking through the only lens that has consistently worked in my life—the lens of faith. If Jesus can save our souls, then there’s probably a good chance he can help Nick do better at his job. Right?
RIGHT. It turns out Jesus had a secret weapon that made him amazing at everything he did. It gave him unexpected power and boldness in all kinds of situations. He taught his followers how to use it. And it’s been passed down all the way to ME, two thousand years later, so I get to share that secret weapon with you.
But first, let’s get to the bottom of this bloodbath business.
WHY IS WORK SO HARD?
Lots of reasons. Maybe we don’t feel qualified. Maybe there’s too much to do. Maybe our co-workers are bloviating blowhards. Maybe our equipment sucks. Maybe there’s not enough time. Maybe we’re misunderstood. Maybe we haven’t been given a chance. All good reasons that work is hard.
What do all those reasons have in common? I can only speak from my own experience because I’ve used ALL of them for work being so hard and sucky. I started off as a graphic designer, and many years ago, I made some Powerpoint slides for the sales guys in our company. And this wasn’t your typical ugly Powerpoint, the kind that makes graphic designers wish they were blind. No, this one was thoughtful, compelling, a real thing of beauty if I say so myself. And those sales guys didn’t have my beautiful deck in their sweaty, ketchup-stained hands for an hour before I saw that Norm The Sales Guy had completely RUINED it by making some “adjustments.” I was so pissed at Norm. He was making me look like an idiot. He botched my hard work! It was about to be a bloodbath, let me tell you.
My kind, wise boss sat me down and said, “Craig, here’s the thing…Norm wasn’t trying to ruin your life when he added all those (terrible, awful, ham-handed) things to your Powerpoint.” And the funny thing is, that totally surprised me. I assumed Norm was out to show me better. Or he didn’t respect me. Or he was at least trying to fix a mistake he thought I’d made. Because I had a totally screwed-up perspective on the work.
Here was my problem: I had made the work all about ME.
In my head, it was MY design, not the company’s. It was MY reputation, not Norm’s. It was ME that would save the day and get us new business with a beautiful Powerpoint deck. And while that attitude might have helped me in the short term, it was no way to survive a whole career’s worth of bloodbaths.
THE SECRET WEAPON
Here’s the secret weapon: HUMILITY. “Aw man,” you’re saying. “I was hoping it would have something to do with swords.” It does, sort of. Humility means falling on your sword and then picking that sword up to defend something bigger. It means killing your own small, selfish ambition, for the sake of a way better collective ambition.
My best understanding of true humility is this: it’s not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. It’s not being quiet and shy and letting people trample you. Not at all. True humility means serving the collective mission of the people around you, even when (especially when) it means taking a hit to your own ego, or your own agenda. It means serving that mission boldly, with all the energy and ferocity and talent you can muster.
When my kind, wise boss pointed out my own selfishness, I started to see things differently. I realized that Norm The Sales Guy was doing his best in pursuit of a greater goal. He was gifted at finding new business. And, Norm was actually an amazing teammate. I knew that because I heard the things he said about me behind my back. Things like, “I really appreciate Craig, he’s a hard worker, and he does a good job.” Norm had my six. He looked out for me. Norm displayed humility in a great way. And now, I really started to feel like an a-hole, because that’s not what I was saying about HIM behind his back. Oof. Turns out, I needed to be more like Norm.
EVEN BETTER THAN NORM, THOUGH
Norm is a good guy to follow, but Jesus is even better. We can learn a lot from the way Jesus did his work. The Apostle Paul, a leader in the early church who wrote a bunch of the Bible, said this in a letter to some of his followers about Jesus:
Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
I love that language—Jesus didn’t exploit his power or his status. He emptied himself. No matter what your faith situation is, it’s safe to say that Jesus was the single most influential person to walk on earth. He’s inspired literally billions of people to follow him. He changed the way we measure time for crying out loud. In other words, Jesus was REALLY good at his job. And how did He do that? Besides being God himself, I mean. Jesus was perfect at his job because he humbled himself to the mission he was assigned. (His mission, by the way, was to save the world from its sin. That’s a doozy of a mission.) And Jesus wasn’t wimpy or quiet or bashful. No way, Jesus made bold moves and challenged the status quo all the way through his ministry, to the point that he riled up the religious establishment, and they conspired to kill him. He endured a real-life bloodbath.
Now get this. Here’s what happened after Jesus spent himself in humble service to his mission. Let’s keep reading what Paul wrote:
Therefore, God highly honored him and gave him a name above all names, so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Dang, that’s a heck of a result. BECAUSE of Jesus’ humility, God honored him. Because Jesus spent himself fully on the toughest assignment of all time, God gave him more power and glory than anybody in the world.
WHAT THAT MEANS FOR YOU (AND ME)
Well, it probably means we should be more humble. How do we even do that? We start to look for the enemies of humility—PRIDE and SHAME. They’re a terrible tag-team that keeps us from the lives that God designed for us. Pride says, “you’re better than all those knuckleheads, so you should do it all yourself.” Shame says, “you suck, don’t even try.” Sound familiar? It does to me because those two spiritual jerks have slowed me down most of my life.
But with Jesus’ example, and the help of the Holy Spirit, I’ve taken a lot of ground. Here are a few questions that help me expose pride and shame. These relate to work, but you’ll find they do just as well when it comes to family, friends, and kids. Next time you’re having a tough time with the Norms in your life, ask yourself:
Am I focused on the greater mission, or am I focused on myself? Prioritizing yourself is wasted energy at best. At worst, it’s sabotaging the greater goal. Ask God to point out your blind spots because we all have them. I guarantee your conscience (which could very well be the Holy Spirit talking to you) will reveal something if you’re operating with a humble mindset.
Am I worried I’ll look dumb? Don’t shrink back because you’re worried about what people will think. Self-preservation is just as bad as self-promotion. It’s all rooted in shame, and shame sucks. The humble move is to speak up when something isn’t clear, or when you feel like you’re over your head. And I guarantee somebody else in the room is wondering the same thing you are, but they’re afraid to speak up. The mission needs you to speak up.
Am I trying to make my teammates better, or am I trying to be the hero? When you come up against a co-worker or client that’s a jerk, an idiot (or worse, both), or just simply difficult, try this. Pray for him or her before your next interaction. And make sure you pray for blessings, peace, insight, breakthrough, and other good things for him, not “please God make Norm less of a doorknob.”
Am I eager to help solve the problems I see? I mean, come on. It’s easy to point out what’s broken. Because the world is a dumpster fire. Seeing something going wrong doesn’t make you smart—it just makes you another critic. And I know it feels good to say, “look at that mess. Glad it’s not my problem.” But that’s just pride talking, and pride is a real jerk. A humble attitude toward problem-solving will make a huge difference. It turns “their problem” into “our problem.” A win for the mission is a win for you. (And sometimes, helping solve a problem means taking the unpopular step of pointing out what’s unreasonable. A good solution might mean pushing on conventional wisdom. This is where bold humility comes in.)
Am I willing to do the muck work, or am I constantly seeking the glory work? If you’re working in humility, you’re willing to take the low place. You’ll do whatever it takes to push the mission forward. Jesus made a point of washing his followers’ feet, like the first-century version of cleaning toilets. Everything in this list, Jesus modeled for his followers. And that’s what made him such an amazing leader. He never asked anybody to do anything before he did it himself.
YOU GOT THIS, FOR REAL
Work is hard. That’s why they call it “work.” (That’s another gem my wise, kind boss gave me a long time ago.) Humility won’t necessarily make work easier, but I guarantee it’ll yield results. Humble people are more trustworthy. They’re better at hard conversations. They’re more respected. Their impact goes way beyond their individual effort. They’re better leaders. They’re better followers. They’re more life-giving to be around. They’re way less likely to get caught up in a scandal.
God wired you for humility, and he gave you a great example in Jesus to show that it can be done. I believe that when you take the humble step day after day, your workplace will look more and more like heaven. You’ll be more fulfilled, and you’ll see the results in your work. Now get out there and be boldly humble. Lay down your own ambitions for the collective goal. Do everything in your power to make the mission succeed. And keep those Powerpoints beautiful.