Monday, September 17, 2012
I'm back! A radically busy summer -- along with a fairly sudden move to a new house -- has thrown me off schedule a bit. But I'm back into working on my book, and wanted to share a fresh story:
My dear friend Sam is a great example of how patiently doing all you can in the midst of a less-than-exciting career can open doors to something far more fulfilling. After his family sold the business that he had co-owned throughout his early adulthood, Sam struggled to find work that would both provide for his family and give him a sense of professional achievement. Eventually, Sam found some success by building a small business. He finished concrete floors – usually in residential garages. Although there was adequate demand for his skills, the work felt repetitive to Sam and didn’t provide him the sense of challenge that he longed for. Moreover, the job required Sam to continually pound the pavement for new customers. Going door to door was the only way he could maintain his livelihood since his job provided no opportunity for repeat customers. As Sam put it, “I was firing myself after each job I finished.”
Sam kept at his business for six years, getting by – sometimes just barely – but never feeling like he was doing what he loved or providing for his family in the way that he wanted to. How would Sam ever find his calling while he was stuck finishing floors? At one particularly low point, Sam asked his stake president (a church leader) for a priesthood blessing (a form of inspired ecclesiastical guidance) to help him know how to provide better for his family. The blessing gave him some very pointed assurances – including that he need not worry, and that God would soon provide Sam a way not only to make a comfortable living, but also to help others in the process.
One day soon after the blessing, Sam was hired to finish the floors of a cabin belonging to a man named Rob, who is a successful entrepreneur. As they drove up the canyon together, Sam inquired what business Rob was currently working on. Rob described a new venture that involved providing social media services to companies through Facebook and other internet-based platforms. Sam was intrigued by the company’s product, and immediately started thinking about business owners he knew who might be interested. Sam told Rob, “I think I can sell that!” Rob appreciated Sam’s enthusiasm but explained that he already had a sales team in place and didn’t have a spot for a new person.
Undeterred, Sam started talking to his various contacts about the new business anyway. And here is where Sam’s unique gifts started to surface in a significant way. You need to know that Sam is extremely gifted at connecting with people and forming relationships. He describes himself as the type of person who can’t stand by in an elevator without striking up a conversation with another occupant. Sam’s friends affectionately refer to him as “The Mayor,” because wherever he goes, he seems to run into someone in the community that he knows. So it wasn’t much of a stretch for Sam to believe that he could find people who would share his enthusiasm for the new business idea.
Within a few months, Sam had brought so many new clients – including some very large ones – into Rob’s business that Rob really had no choice but to hire him. By his second month of employment, Sam had more sales than anyone else in the company. When he talks about his work now, he has a sparkle in his eye and an infectious enthusiasm. It’s obvious that he has taken a huge step toward work that represents his calling in life.
When Sam looks back on his years as a floor finisher, he has a sense that it was a necessary, if not always pleasant, experience to prepare him for the work he is doing now. Finishing floors gave him a commitment to meticulousness that has enhanced his professionalism. Selling his services door-to-door heightened his confidence in approaching potential clients. And, most strikingly, Sam admits that he never would have found his current job if it hadn’t been for the opportunity to finish the floor of his boss’ cabin.
As he reflects back on the years of struggling as he searched for his calling, Sam feels that his faith played a critical role in helping him get where he is today. He said,
“The Lord is involved in our lives in the smallest, simplest ways, and we don’t even realize it. The question is whether we have that childlike faith to see it. Instead of questioning whether it’s the hand of the Lord or not, we just need to say, ‘yeah, that was the Lord.’”
It would have been easy for Sam to despair, or to think that God had forgotten him, when he was struggling for years with his floor-finishing business. But in retrospect, Sam can now see his professional struggles, and less-than-fulfilling work, refined him through those challenging times to prepare him to do work that allows him to use his best gifts.
Sam's story should be an inspiration and comfort to those of us who feel like we are just grinding away at unfulfilling jobs. Having an unpleasant job is not the worst thing that could ever happen to us! Virtually any job provides us opportunities to learn something about ourselves (even if it's figuring out who we aren't). Sam's formula is pretty brilliant: Work as hard and well as you can at whatever job you are blessed with, but at the same time, be intensely vigilant and opportunistic about new and unusual prospects. You might just see the hand of Providence!