“She’s hungry.” “He has drive.” “They’re climbing the ladder.” “Keep your eye on the prize.” “Do you have what it takes?”
I spent my first five years after college energized by the paradigm of achievement. Phrases like the ones above fizzed and sparked, motivating me to work hard and prove that I could do it; I could be a high-achiever in a fast-paced work environment. I read articles and listened to podcasts about designing a life and career path for success.
As the years passed and I witnessed the ways that faithful women and men navigated their careers, I observed a different paradigm. Colleagues made announcements about career transitions and spoke about opportunities as gifts and invitations. Friends invited me into deep considerations of what the Spirit was saying to them and where they felt peace to follow God’s leading. They weren’t driven by building a rock star resume (though that may have also been happening), but by cultivating what they had been given. They were stewards.
The paradigm of stewardship–overseeing the flourishing of something in your care–doesn’t fizz or spark. Yet its force is no less energizing. Its energy settles in for a long journey, like a flowing river in its prime. A career guided by stewardship cultivates a distinct posture and orientation in our hearts, in 3 ways:
The paradigm of stewardship cultivates gratitude and humility.
A career viewed through the lens of stewardship is a career that isn’t chiefly about you. What stewards work with is not their own, but they are given what they need to fulfill what God asks of them. Like Moses’ staff, given to him in Exodus 4 “so that [the Egyptians] may believe that the Lord [has appeared],” everything we have received from God points to His power, His grace, and His will. It’s not about us and our achievements, but about His gifts to us: opportunities, talents, relationships, and circumstances. What could be more humbling than realizing our career paths aren’t about resumes, but about God saying to each of us, “Here is what I have for you, will you join me in redeeming my Creation?”
The paradigm of stewardship helps us focus on God’s plan, not our own.
Because a steward cannot do what they do without what is given to them, they operate with a constant focus on whomever they serve. If they don’t, they won’t know the plans they should be executing or the ways in which they should operate. As God’s stewards, decisions we make about our careers are less about a path to success and more about the ways God will use anything and everything (relationships with colleagues, expertise learned through a project, even things we’ll never see) for His aims.
The paradigm of stewardship tempers comparison.
Finally, a person acting as a steward finds little use in comparing their stewardship to other stewards, since no two people are dealing with the same context and resources. The gifts we receive from God and the invitations He gives are as different as our families, neighborhoods, and cultures. The thread of God’s love is found everywhere, while the specific actions that flow from that love won’t look exactly the same.
When I’m tempted to compare upon seeing another’s resources or circumstances, I’m reminded of Peter’s question in John 21, “Lord, what about him?” and Jesus’ response: “What is that to you? God says, ‘You must follow me’.”
It must be said that while comparison is useless when it leads to jockeying for an imagined status in the Kingdom, differences in contexts cannot be ignored. Much of the career advice I consumed early in my career assumed a level of agency and choice in vocation. Choosing a career path or even framing one’s daily work as a career rather than a livelihood is not universal. Rather, it’s a luxury afforded by culture and privilege. But even if access to choose one’s career is not universal, I believe the paradigm of stewardship is. We are all invited by God, through Christ, to join Him in His redemptive plan for Creation, and He gives each of us opportunities to do just that.
The paradigm of achievement feels electric, but it can cultivate a focus only on our own success and may cause us to miss an opportunity for faithfulness. The paradigm of stewardship, on the other hand, helps to reframe our view and settle in for a journey of humbly receiving God’s gifts and focusing on ways we can join His plans.
Viewing our careers through the lens of stewardship leads us to be like Samuel, ever ready to say to God, “Here I am…your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3).
Claire (Stewart) Brosius is a writer, strategist, climber, and avid Star Wars fan. She currently serves as the senior manager of strategic initiatives at HOPE International, where she leads strategy design and management. Claire holds a B.A. in philosophy from Wheaton College (IL) and lives in Columbus, OH.