Alumni Articles

Humility in a Performance-Based Workplace

I started a Bachelor of Behavioural Science in 2010, and with the exception of one unit, had the degree wrapped up by the start of 2013. So, I set about looking for a full-time job. After eight weeks of applications, I landed a job in the Direct Sales team at a phone company. This is one of the most intensely competitive departments within the company.

The experience of overt competitiveness was quite a culture shock. I moved from a culture of false humility at uni, where pride was downplayed, to one in which it is openly encouraged and its fruits celebrated. Within my first fortnight at work I was sitting seventh in the sales tally. When I began to be congratulated for my efforts, I started to feel a rather uncomfortable tension. On the one hand, I knew exactly how I should be acting. I was to eschew pride and show humility. Yet sadly, despite knowing the right response, my daily behaviour didn’t show it. When success came knocking, my pride answered, and I looked no different from my non-Christian colleagues.

All this opened up the question for me: how should I deal with success as a Christian?

 

Humility does not come naturally to me; it’s not my first port of call as soon as things start going my way. However, I needed (and still need) to come to terms with humility. Why? Because it is an inescapable part of the gospel and an essential part of Jesus’ character.

Firstly, the gospel. The concept of grace, that I am an unworthy sinner restored to relationship with God on the basis of everything that Jesus has done and despite everything I have done, naturally engenders humility. I cannot be a Christian and think that I deserve any of God’s goodness towards me.

But there’s also the character of the Lord Jesus, which I, as his follower, am to imitate. The Son of God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, humbled himself to become a human and to die like a criminal. The birth, life and death of Jesus show incredible humility. I need to look like him if I claim to follow him.

After some introspection, the root of my pride dawned on me: my work life lacked a conscious working out of the gospel. This conscious use of the gospel, as a filter through which to pass everything, hadn’t been as necessary at uni. Amongst the plethora of worldviews on offer, I had been able to surround myself with a group of Christian peers. We were soaked in a Christian worldview which sees all things, including success, as gifts received gratefully and humbly from God. I shared organically in this Christian worldview. It wasn’t necessary to employ it consciously when processing information. It was simply always there.

However, when I left my Christian bubble and moved to the egocentric environment of the sales team, my pride flourished without the checks and balances of my Christian peer group. Without the organic presence of the gospel and its message of grace, pride took root in my work life.

Although I write in the past tense, my struggle with pride is by no means over. Believe it or not, I’m not walking around the sales floor emanating a strong white light, floating one inch above the ground on a cloud of holiness and good intention. But what I am doing is ensuring that I re-tell myself the gospel daily. Now I make a conscious effort to remember that everything I have is a gift from my heavenly Father. From the country I live in, to the family I was born into, to the job that I have. All these things are amazing blessings, and all entirely undeserved. When I remember to think this way, I can’t be self-important. Pride flees in the face of this daily account.

Although this is not the only lesson I have learnt since starting full-time employment, it is certainly one of the most powerful. Join me in preaching yourself the gospel daily. Confront yourself with the love and grace of God on a regular basis, bask in it and let it permeate the entirety of your life.

Paul Matthews - graduting Bachelor of Behavioural Science at UTAS in 2013


Worldview in the workplace

I finished 5 years of uni at the end of 2011 and started working full time as a Grade 7/8 teacher at a local high school. Teaching, like all professions, brings with it some very unique joys and challenges. I have been very blessed by the Lord in my transition into full time work, with a job I love in which I am daily challenged to love others and to be a witness to Christ’s love in my life.

One of the biggest changes from uni to work is that the workplace has forced me to spend a lot of time with people who have different personalities and worldviews. All these worldviews, though very diverse, have one thing in common – they sit in opposition to the gospel. As a Christian, this has led me to reflect on different aspects of my worldview – the gospel – and how it interacts with issues like homosexuality and atheism, as well as the ideas that ‘all faiths lead to the same place’ and ‘life’s all about being the best person you can be’. Although I engaged with these ideas at an intellectual level at uni, facing them as realities in the workplace has certainly challenged me to refine my approach to these issues from a gospel perspective. It has been a real challenge to balance positive collegial relationships with a conviction that the gospel is the truth.

Another challenge, and one that is also a joy, is the great number of opportunities I get to demonstrate God’s love in my workplace. Many children are exposed to some of the worst of our fallen world, and I regularly hear stories that make me long for Jesus’ return. But each of these stories reminds me of my students’ need for Jesus and I relish the opportunities to love them as Christ has loved me. I pray that my life might reflect Christ’s love and that although I am not permitted to share my faith with words, I can do so by my actions.

One thing that is common to all workplaces is gossip, and refusing to participate in it is one of the simplest ways to reflect Christ in the workplace. For me, this is one of the most challenging things to do, and something I know will always be a battle. I would encourage anyone entering the workplace to give some serious thought to their approach to gossip prior to beginning. It is much too easy to use excuses like – ‘I’m just building rapport with my colleagues’ or ‘I’m only new, I don’t want to step out of line...’. Again, that balance of developing good relationships with colleagues while refusing to compromise on the gospel is something that requires lots of thought and prayer.

For me, the most important thing is that I leave an imprint of Christ’s love on my students. If I can strive every day to reflect Christ, regardless of whatever else is going on, then I feel I am serving God in the place that he wants me to be.

Ruth Davies – graduated Master of Teaching at UTAS in 2011


Surviving as a Christian journalist in Canberra

Working as a political journalist in Parliament House can be very exciting at times, with rumours of leadership challenges, high-stakes political battles and major policy announcements. But it can also be a challenging place to work - especially as a Christian.

 
Like many workplaces, being a Christian means you are in the minority. That’s true of Parliament House as well. It’s a work environment that draws to it some very driven and highly competitive people. Add to that the normal deadline pressures of a newsroom, and it makes for a potentially combustible mix of personalities. 
 
I’m fairly competitive, and the temptation often is to play on their turf. But I’ve realised over the years that it’s not wise. Engaging in competitive, albeit unspoken, battles with your colleagues will only fuel feelings of jealousy when they ‘win’. More significantly, it leads you to relate to your colleagues in a way that views them primarily as potential obstacles to your own success, instead of viewing them as people who need to hear the gospel. It’s a pretty significant attitude change, and not one I’m claiming to have fully come to grips with. I need to be reminded constantly that my workplace is my main mission field - I’m there to love and serve my colleagues to point them to Christ, not to compete against them in the race to career ‘success’.
 
That leads me on to my next point - that being a Christian in the workplace involves sacrifice. I’ve made a conscious decision wherever I’ve worked to be committed to a church and regular fellowship - whether that be a Bible study, or whatever. It all takes up precious time - which obviously means less time for other things. In my work context, a lot of good stories come from having “background” chats with politicians outside of work hours. But there have been many times I’ve had to decline dinner invitations because it clashes with my bible study. Sure, there’s a temptation to skip Bible study one week... but it would soon turn into two weeks, then three. You get the idea, and it’s not a good one.
 
Being committed to a church also involves sacrifice in terms of saying ‘no’ to some job opportunities. Within the ABC, there are often opportunities to “back-fill” in different positions in different locations. It’s a great way to get experience, but it has the downside of taking you away from your church and your immediate fellowship. Sometimes it will be worthwhile to take a four month stint in another city, but it needs to be carefully considered in light of being committed to a church, and how it would impact on your spiritual growth. Often, I think the spiritual risks outweigh the work benefits. Obviously, the longer the posting, the more likely it is that you could settle into a church at your new location. My overarching point is that being committed to a church and being in regular Christian fellowship is essential, and that should be a major factor in weighing up whether to take a job - be it short term or long term.
 
But being committed to a church can sometimes be hard - even when living in one place. Because the news never stops, nor do newsrooms. I work shift work, meaning I start work as early as 6am on some shifts, while other shifts will have me working through until the early hours of the next day. It’s physically hard, and makes routine almost impossible. Obviously that throws up some challenges in terms of making time for regular Bible reading and prayer, and making church services. I try to schedule in some devotional time regardless of what shift I’m on. Sometimes it means reading the Bible before work, sometimes after work. Sometimes I’m successful, other times not. I’m also required to work Sundays - about one a month. This means I can’t make it to my church’s morning service that week, but I do finish in time to make it to a night service at a different church. Even if you don’t feel like going (which I sometimes don’t after a long shift), it’s often worth it.
 
 
Like most workplaces, newsrooms are places of great gossip. I mean ‘great’ in the sense of volume, not quality! And some news stories legitimately start out as pieces of “gossip” that your hear on the grapevine. It’s been a challenge for me to make a clear and good distinction between gossiping and doing my job - which is to sift fact from rumour. That aside, there’s also the gossip that is definitely not part of work. It often involves talking about other colleagues, politicians private lives, etc. It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing this because we all like to be in the know - journalists especially! But it shows great integrity if you don’t engage in gossip (which often involves a degree of slander). It may mean you’re “out of the loop” on some things, but that’s life.
 
Living with integrity in the workplace throws up lots of challenges beyond just gossiping. For example, there are often opportunities to mis-use workplace resources, do tasks half-heartedly, and say things we shouldn’t. Most workplaces involve a lot of swearing. Mine too. I chose not to do that, simply because the Bible tells us not to. And I agree that it’s not easy sometimes. On one occasion I had to report some unsavoury comments made by a politician. To report the comments would have involved swearing on the radio. I didn’t want to do that, and explained the situation to a colleague who was only to happy to do the story instead. But even without that example, colleagues do notice when you don’t swear. I had one colleague pull up another workmate for swearing because “Simon doesn’t like it” - even though I’d never said that.
 
Being a Christian and a reporter, people often ask me how I manage it? The simple answer is trying to work with integrity. There is always the temptation to “beat-up” a story beyond its true value, or to selectively quote people, or to emphasise one side of the story over another. But it’s possible to resist these temptations. I always try to be balanced, fair and honest in my reporting. It often involves spending a few extra minutes just considering whether the story is a fair reflection of what happened or what was said. I’m blessed to have a boss and a workplace that puts no pressure on me to write stories a certain way or embellish aspects of stories. Being a journalist can sometimes mean airing points of view that I personally disagree with. That’s part of any political debate, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing that both sides of any argument have a chance to put their views forward. What I try to do is make sure the airtime both sides receive is fair and balanced.
 
I know I’ve outlined some of the hard things about being a Christian in a non-Christian work environment. But we have been called by God to work, and not be idle. And work can be great fun too - I love my job (most of the time). The challenge for me, and all of us, is to live with integrity at work, love my colleagues, and prioritise Christ above any career success I may seek.

Written by Simon Cullen, March 2012. Simon works as a journalist for the ABC in Canberra.

 


Life After Graduation

Working out 'where to next' for the recent Christian graduate comes with a lot of hard and important decisions to make amongst a wave of new opportunities and experiences that await you. Here you can find a neat little document that may address some of your thoughts and concerns for life after University.


Alumni Dinner Keynote

[By Alumnus Mike Clayton, delivered at our Alumni Dinner at Me Wah restaurant on the 13th November]

Thanks for the invitation to spend a few minutes talking with you about some of the issues facing Christians in the secular workforce.

I have been thinking about why Mikey asked me in particular, and the only answer I can think of is that he was looking for some kind of cautionary tale.

Anyway, I am a lawyer working for the United Nations, based out of a regional office in Canberra.  We cover 16 countries including Australia, NZ, PNG and the Pacific and my functional responsibility is for resettlement of refugees in this region.

I suspect you’ve heard the debate about asylum-seekers and boat people arriving in Australia and the claims that they are sneaking in by the back door or jumping the queue.  People who arrive at a country’s borders and claim asylum are exercising a fundamental right under international law.  There is nothing illegal in seeking asylum.

The problem is that there are 15.2 million refugees in the world, and about 80% of them are hosted by poor and developing countries.  Pakistan alone has 1.7 million refugees.

As a way of helping to share the burden on the developing world, which is hosting huge numbers, some wealthy countries – Australia, Canada, USA, New Zealand among them – have started something they call “resettlement.”  Resettlement involves selecting small numbers of the most vulnerable refugees from overseas and giving them a solution in one of the resettlement countries.  Resettlement is only open to small numbers (about 80k p/a out of 15m total) and it is a totally separate process from seeking asylum.  Next time you hear someone talk about queue-jumpers, tell them there is no queue and, even if there were, it would be several hundred years long.

Anyway, apologies for the soapbox.  My particular job involves casework, policy and advocacy related to all aspects of resettlement in this region.  In some ways it is my dream job but, as I have discovered, the grass is always greener on the other side.

I’m assuming that there are a few people here who are still at Uni or recent graduates.  I thought I would take a few minutes to outline a couple of issues I have met along the way.  I’m not going to try to give answers, but just pose a question or two.

I graduated from UTAS in 2001, having drunk a lot of coffee and learned some important life lessons.  Among these were: that 51% on an assignment indicates one per cent’s wasted effort and that 2am is not the ideal time for white water rafting.

Uni was also where I was challenged about the fact that I was happy to call myself Christian but I didn’t really look like one.  One of the things that really strikes me, looking back, is that we should never underestimate the importance of the time and openness to philosophical challenge that you have while you are a student.  As soon as you get in the workforce and start to be paid to be right, you will never have quite the same mental freedom again.

Anyway, shortly afterwards, Uni ended and I had to get a job.  So what next?  To keep a healthy sense of perspective, my closest group of friends (most of them non-Christian) made a pact that we would all spend the next 20 years generating stories, then get together over a cigar (each) and a glass of cognac and compare notes.

Sadly I don’t think I’m winning – one of the group (a doctor) was in Sri Lanka when the Boxing Day tsunami hit, and he had to rip the bathroom door off his bungalow to drag out his fiancé and swim with her to safety.  In case that wasn’t enough, they then set up a Red Cross outpost together.  Another member of the group (an engineer) has been using materials including the burned out shells of tanks in Afghanistan to rebuild canal walls and weirs.  I’m a lawyer, and hence not really good at doing anything useful, so I’ve been struggling by comparison.  Even though those guys are not Christian, they have been doing great humanitarian work.  The thing I wonder about is whether my stories and my decisions are going to look any different from theirs in 20 years time because I’m a Christian.

I spent a few years practicing criminal law (trying to get justice for people who really needed grace) and then took up my current post with the UN.  The first change which struck me was that I was now working for the benefit of those who were in trouble through no fault of their own.  That was a relief. 

The second was that I had a pretty dramatic change in perceived status and actual income. 

Working under a respected banner like the UN insignia is significant from a professional perspective, but from a personal point of view the status of work tends to get mixed in with pride and other less helpful things.  After I started, I found myself wanting to give people business cards.  (I’m talking checkout chicks, random people in the street, etc.)  A prestigious job also attracts ambitious competition, and tends to cultivate a sense of superiority.  You can’t admit your limitations or mistakes because it feels like there are a dozen people wanting to push you aside.  The more important you let yourself believe your job is, the stronger the temptation is to find your sense of self-worth and identity in the job.

The gospel is a fantastic cold shower in that respect: not only am I such a lost cause that Jesus had to go to the cross for me, but actually there is nothing I can do for God in my job that he needs.  I’ll just do it well because he asked me to.

Then there’s income.  Needless to say, for anyone who may be heading out into the workforce for the first time, you probably won’t get paid much in your first couple of years, but your income will creep up.  The challenge is to keep track of what happens to your standard of living.  After a few years in the workforce, could you go back to living on the income you had in your first year?

There is a story of a man who went to his Minister and said he was really struggling to give to the church these days.  He had always given 10% of his pay, not because he had to, but because he could.  But in the early days he was earning 50,000 per annum and giving 5,000 wasn’t too hard.  But, he said, “now I’m earning $500,000 and I just can’t give away $50,000.”  The Minister was concerned for the man and asked whether he could pray with him about the problem.  The man agreed and so the Minister prayed: “Dear God, please help our brother to resolve this difficulty regarding the income you have given him.  Please reduce his income to the point where he is once again able to give away 10%.”

Income can be a bit of a blind spot – after all, the worker deserves his wages and we feel entitled given the hours we put in.  But what is ‘wage’ and what are we just given custodianship of?

The last issue I want to touch on is the question where I should be working in the first place.

If you’re a Christian, you accept the sovereignty of God and you know that he has a plan for the world.  If you also happen to be human, then you’re tempted by the idea that his plan is depending on me to play the vital role.  What does God want me to be doing?  Am I where God wants me to be?  Or more importantly, am I where God NEEDS me to be?

It’s not inconceivable that God has an “Esther moment” planned for me – that he is preparing me to marry the King of Persia so I can save his people – but it’s more likely that he just wants me to do what I do with my sights set on the Kingdom.

That’s not too hard.  The thing that is harder is to remember there are a couple of bits of explicit guidance that we do have.  One of them is that there is a definite hierarchy which places work beneath family, which is beneath God.  That’s the one that I find really difficult.  I’m always heading in exactly the opposite direction: my work is the main thing and my family has to fit in around it.  God gets any gaps left over.

In my job at the moment, (which, like I said, was pretty much my dream job), I work every second week away from my family, up in Canberra.  Every second month or so I’ll get sent somewhere interesting overseas for a while.  I work long hours and feel like I provide for my family – that should keep them happy.  I do work that benefits the poor and oppressed, and I do it with integrity and try to set an example as a Christian in the workforce – that should keep God happy.  And, in the mean time, I get to have adventures and generate stories to share with my friends over cigars and cognac.

But actually my commitment to the Church gets pushed aside while I’m traveling, and, with the time spent away in Canberra, my daughter doesn’t really know me all that well.

Whatever my job is, if it pushes God or my family aside, then I know explicitly that it is not where God wants me to stay.

I don’t know: perhaps God put me in the job as a test to see if I’m strong enough to leave it.

Like I said, a cautionary tale.  For any of you who are about to dive into the professional world: I’ll be keen to hear your stories in 20 years.

By Mike Clayton http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/

 


Alumnus story: James Brinkhoff

Uni Fellowship alumnus, James Brinkhoff, tells his story "A Journey from self-focussed to Christ-centred spirituality" on alumnus Joe Towns' blog Talking Pentecostalism. A turning point in James' story was the Uni Fellowship (then FOCUS) Mid Year Conference: "To my shock, I was the one who was changed. I was the one who came away with a new zeal and a heart bursting with a new understanding of what God's will is. God was pleased to enlighten the eyes of my heart, and in a way and with a depth I had never known before. Aside from my conversion, that conference on the Spirit was the biggest event in my Christian life."


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