He’s Right

My brothers don’t read my blog or I wouldn’t dare to put this in writing … but my  brother Jim was right.

Years and years ago, he told me I was not irreplacable. I don’t recall the full conversation, but we must have been talking about some work situation in which I found myself. I can’t think of another context for the analogy he used.

He told me to think of a bucket of water. He said when I put my hand in a bucket of water, it doesn’t change (which made no sense to me, because putting my hand in a bucket of water changes the water level), and when I take my hand out, the bucket of water remains the same (except, I added mentally, the water level is lowered).

His point, of course, was that the water itself didn’t change; its elemental or chemical composition was the same — H2O — whether my hand was in the bucket or not. In the same way, organizations are relatively stable regardless of who works for them. Employees are,  for the most part, interchangeable.

Since I didn’t understand the analogy, I doubt if I took his advice. I know now — with 20/20 hindsight — that I have stayed with more than one job longer than was wise. I came to this realization while reading THE JESUIT GUIDE TO (ALMOST) EVERYTHING: A SPIRITUALITY FOR REAL LIFE by James Martin, S.J.

I’ve been reading this book for months, though it’s easy to read and understand, because it’s functioned in my life like a spiritual director. I will read a chapter, discover it stirs up the mud of my subconscious, and find I need time to reflect on what has come to the surface before I’m ready to move on.

Most recently, I read Chapter 12, “What Should I Do? The Ignatian Way of Making Decisions.” As with Ignatian contemplation, imagination can play a role if one uses what Martin (and probably St. Ignatius) called the Second Method.

“First,” Martin wrote, “he [St. Ignatius] suggests you ‘imagine a person whom I have never seen or known,’ and imagine what advice you would give to this person regarding the same decision you are facing. This can help free you from excessive focus on yourself.”

I was trying to decide whether to apply for a couple positions in the area which interested me. After being unemployed for six months, I began to work at a convenience store a couple months ago. Since I live in an area of the country with an economy that relies heavily on tourism, and the tourism season is just beginning, the store’s busy season is just beginning.

Because of this, I was torn. I like the manager and I know how difficult it has been for him to find reliable employees. I really hate the  idea of  leaving him high and dry at the beginning of the tourism season. On the other hand, neither of the positions that interests me — both of which are in my field — is likely to open up again if the right candidate is hired, so passing at this time is passing on the positions altogether.

I know exactly what I would have done had I not read this chapter. I would have passed on the job opportunities that interested me, because I would have felt it was selfish to put my needs ahead of the needs of the organization. I’m a caregiver by nature. I care for those who come into my sphere regardless of whether they appreciate my efforts or not.

Twenty years ago, I worked as a library technician at a university library. The head of the department in which I worked was not very well organized, was not a good problem-solver and had somehow managed to alienate her entire staff by the time I started six months after she was hired — about the time she was entrusted with a major project. After mastering my job responsibilities, I tackled a few of the procedural challenges in the department which eased some of the tension among co-workers.

Then, I became concerned about my supervisor, because it  was painfully obvious she didn’t know how to tackle the project. Working with my co-workers, I developed a system which would enable us, as a team, to accomplish the project which had been assigned to her. When evaluation time came around, she gave me a mediocre evaluation, failing to note the contributions I had made which enabled the department to function more smoothly and enabled her project to move along in an orderly fashion.

Thus was the beginning of a difficult seven-year relationship. Twice during that time, I was asked by other department heads to apply for promotional positions. I didn’t apply either time, because each time my department was in the middle of a major transition, and I didn’t trust the department head to get the work done in a smooth, systematic manner. Eventually, after an especially appalling evaluation, I quit.

Had someone I didn’t know asked me what to do, I would not have advised them to do what I did. If they were asked to apply for a promotional position, but hated to leave a project half finished, I would have asked: who is the responsible for the project? (In my situation, it was my supervisor.) Then I would have asked whether the individual was interested in the position being offered. (In my situation, I was definitely interested in one.) My final question would have been: so, if you’re interested in the position and you’re not responsible for the project, why are you hesitating?

After reflecting upon this question for several days, I have an answer I don’t like: pride. I thought I was irreplacable.

In his book, THE CATHOLIC WAY: FAITH  FOR LIVING TODAY, Cardinal Donald Wuerl writes, pride “is defined as the need, the tendency, of persons to exalt themselves, their gifts, their ability over others and even over God’s plan.” In my case, I strongly suspect that in exalting myself in this way, I may have (ironically or, perhaps, tragically) thwarted God’s plan for my happiness.

Father Bernard Bro, a French Dominican priest, is quoted in the May 2012 issue of  THE MAGNIFICAT as writing, “Whether or not we wish, we cannot escape the thirst for happiness; we are made for it. Whether or not we wish, we cannot acquire it without human means. The kingdom of God is not established outside of or beyond our lives, but each day as a result of the most insignificant acts. We actually enter into collaboration with God when we begin our search for happiness.”

That being the case, it’s altogether possible that ignoring an open door out of an exalted sense of my own abilities, I missed the opportunity for job satisfaction, job security and … yes, I’ll use the word … happiness. Sadly, that’s been a pattern in my life which I will have to confess when next I receive the Sacrament of Reconcilliation.

For now, though, I am willing to consider the possibility that God’s hand may be at work in my awareness of the positions that interest me. I am willing to at least submit applications. If God is not opening doors … well, obviously, I won’t be offered either position. And if He is, I have — at least in this instance — been able to put His will above an exalted sense of my own gifts.

For this, I am grateful. Thank you, Father Martin, for opening my eyes.



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