Editor’s Note: I wrote this in 2017, after celebrating my third year at the advertising agency described here. The agency was foundational in my career and life formation, and I think it’s important to share lessons from that job with you.
Last week, I celebrated three years with my company. Reflecting on the meaningful milestone with a friend, I paused when she asked me, “What is one of the best things you’ve learned so far?”
It’s a question I’ve been pondering since I started my career in 2014. The opportunities for growth and learning truly outnumber what I’d expected or hoped for. They’ve filled knowledge gaps. They’ve expanded my business vocabulary. They’ve increased my list of cities visited.
I wondered how to best list the projects I’m working on and explain why they matter to me. What I found myself doing instead was describing the healing to my soul that the company consistently delivers to my life.
Words like “career” and “job” do describe the role this place fills in my life. But they don’t fully embody the significance the company holds for me.
Early on, a seasoned colleague told me, “A lot of us have grown up here,” and I wondered what she meant. After chewing on that statement for three years, I’m starting to get it. And it’s beautiful.
Naturally an empathetic person, growing up in a pastor’s family provided many opportunities for me to exercise my care for others. By age 10, I realized that many people were too wrapped up in their own issues to care about others. And humanity is worse off for it! So, I decided to show extra care to every peer who had no friends on the playground, or zero birthday parties to attend. They became my tribe.
Throughout my life, I continued in this mode of friendship and service—but ultimately, I became exhausted. While many called me their best friend, I felt like I knew dozens of people and no one knew me.
“Compassion fatigue” is a situation that many in the medical and helping professions face—but I found its symptoms creeping into my own life. Most of this list’s symptoms defined my life for years:
- Chronic exhaustion (emotional, physical, or both)
- Reduced feelings of sympathy or empathy
- Feelings of irritability, anger, or anxiety
- Hypersensitivity or complete insensitivity to emotional material
Last summer, a wise friend said, “There is no burnout in Christ.” She knows that when every action we take is powered by God’s strength, we are able to care well for others, and represent Him in our interactions. We’re able to do this because of Jesus’ power — not because of our own tenacity. In theory, this truth has always made sense to me. In practice, though, I’ve never known how to not rely on me.
That’s why the company I’m now privileged to serve is such an unprecedented breath of fresh air. The people I work with reflect Jesus in ways I’ve never experienced. They are devoted to following Him wholeheartedly, and that involves a commitment to exercising what the Bible calls the “Fruits of the Spirit.”
For the girl who spent her life giving, caring, and performing—unaware that I am indeed allowed to be cared for, too—truly experiencing “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” has proved liberating.
It’s what Jesus offers us. It’s what I never knew how to accept. It’s what my colleagues display daily. And, it’s what I’m learning to pray for, practice, and share with others.
So … “What is one of the best things you’ve learned so far?”
I’ve learned how to accept help. To let others in, to let myself be seen. To embrace being human — which includes success and failure, joy and pain.
We’re an effective team. We produce quality work at high capacity. In what feels like a former life, that’s the only place from which I drew my worth — what I could provide for others.
But here, while effectiveness and productivity in our work is the purpose for which we gather each day … it’s not the sum total of our worth or relationships. We value one another for quirky laughs, predictable one-liners, and everything else that makes each person unique.
Doing so creates space to not only extend grace, but also to accept it. I often say this place is “the job I always wanted that I never existed.” And every day proves that delightful realization even more true.