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Does Your Career Define You? Excerpt from “Multi-Careering” by Bob Goff

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9780310433347Whether you are a pastor, professor, ministry leader, or graduate student, it is easy to make your career your identity. It's almost inevitable, isn't it? We spend something like 45-50 hours of our week striving at whatever it is God has placed us in to work and cultivate creation.

But what happens when you don't get tenure? Or there's a riff in your church and it splits, leading to a fold? What happens if you don't pass your comp exams? What then?

Or let's flip it to the positive: what happens when you get that book contract or doctorate in hand? What happens when you score that shiny new worship building or first (or third) satellite campus? What then?

Bob Goff, president and founder of Restore International, has written a new book that addresses that lovely word career, and what it means for living a meaningful life. It's called Multi-Careering: Do Work That Matters at Every State of Your Journey (releasing 1/7/14), and it's part of an innovative series of short books called FRAMES, a partnership between Zondervan and Barna Group.

In the excerpt below, Goff writes about the danger that can come from identifying with your career to such an extent that the kinds of highs and lows we talked about affect our identity. This is especially important for students and how we should view our degrees. Goff encourages us to be careful with defining our lives by our careers. His advice is to do the opposite: to choose our lives and backfill our careers so that what we do doesn't define who we are.

At some point, most people begin what they call a “career.” I’m not really sure what makes us distinguish between what we call a job and what we call a career. To me, a career sounds like a job you do for long enough that you start to identify a part of yourself with it. That’s not necessarily a bad idea — but it’s not necessarily a good one, either. 

Some people think of what they do as merely work, while others think of it as legacy.

As time has passed, I’ve come to think of my careers as a part of my legacy, but certainly not all of it. After we’re gone, those closest to us may appreciate the work we did, but they’re more likely to remember how we did it. They will remember us for our love and whimsy. Only strangers will remember us just for our jobs or titles. The People for whom we care most and who care most for us will remember best how we loved them (or didn’t) with our careers.

I wrote a book called Love Does. I struck a deal with [Thomas Nelson] that I would trade writing a book for them for their building a school in northern Uganda. I wasn’t sure the book would be any good, but I really wanted them to build that school, so I did my best. Then it hit the New York Times best-seller list for quite a while, which was great because I got to share with a heap of readers about some of the things that excite me most.

I am not an author. Sure, I wrote a book — so, technically speaking, I guess I am an author. But let’s not get technical. What I mean is, what I do isn’t who I am. You know who I am? … Maria’s husband. Lindsey, Richard, and Adam’s dad. I have learned to be very careful how I describe myself, because people do best at what they identify with most… How we identify ourselves is the thing we will become.

If we call ourselves speakers or writers or knife throwers but then some night we do a lousy job of speaking or writing or knife throwing, it’s not just a bad night. It’s an identity crisis. I’ve chosen to identify myself by Jesus, by my family, and by my friends. Do a great job at your family and you always win. Define yourself by them. When you’re choosing what job to do, remember — it’s not who you are, it’s a day job.

Some of us labor under an oppressive misconception. Far more limiting than a physical challenge, it’s an impediment we make up ourselves. It’s as simple as it is insidious. It is believing the lie that our titles and accomplishments have a significant shelf life. To be sure, getting a doctorate is a real accomplishment. But years from now, ask the family of the person with the PhD what comes to mind when you say her name; I’ll bet you dollars to donuts they don’t mention her big degree. I’ve won law cases worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and I’ll bet you every cent that, decades from now, my kids won’t remember a single case. Me neither. 

We’re not defined by our jobs. We’re defined by our love.

Too many people choose their careers and then backfill their lives. That’s a big problem if our careers are not, in the end, what define us. What if, instead, we choose our lives and backfill our careers?

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