After living in the U.K. for eighteen months, I can notice changes within my entire being. For instance, the food quality has changed how I feel, and I’ve not been sick in a long time. The only real diet change is that I have cut fast food. That’s it. I still consume my normal diet and feel great. While my body still resembles the ‘dad bod,’ I feel great. My mental health has endured ups and downs, but I’ve taken appropriate measures to engage that part of my body. Overall, I’m experiencing joy and peace like never before, and this feeling did not happen overnight. But it did happen over time. Over these eighteen months, I’ve realised how vastly my life looks and feels now compared to a few years ago. Because a few years ago, I experienced burnout, and now I see signs of flourishment. For me, the most significant change is the culture of work, and it took burnout and moving four thousand miles to figure it out.
What is burnout? Jonathan Malesic, the author of The End of Burnout, says three things signal burnout: Exhaustion, cynicism, and [feeling] ineffective. Malesic experienced burnout after achieving his dream job as a theology professor. Even though he had a decent salary and tenure as a professor, he felt the weight of all three of burnout’s signals and quit his job. He then used his academic skills to discover the root of what he felt. By researching previous work on burnout and interviewing case studies of burnout and the flourishment of others, he proposes that our [American] culture must change around work to restore human dignity, above all. He seems to offer a passive critique of a capitalist economy and the American culture on work, so if you’re sensitive to either of those, ‘be ye warned.’ It’s not a negative critique but a thoughtful and well-developed one.
At any rate, his work on burnout finally gave me words for my struggle and growth around the work culture. More importantly, I’ve noticed that my thoughts and habits have changed around the work culture, and this, I believe, is the most significant change I’ve noticed in the last eighteen months.
The European work culture is difficult to explain, challenging to learn, but very easy to live. Does that make sense? It’s taken a year and a half to learn, and I’m unsure if I can live any other way. I don’t technically have a ‘job’ right now other than working at the pub on Friday nights. For a few months, I was cleaner at our college a few hours per week, but I noticed the work was disrupting my research, so I moved on. My ‘job’, if you will, is a researcher working on a PhD. Because of faithful family and friends’ financial support and a scholarship from ‘A Foundation on Theological Education’ – the John Wesley Fellowship- I can research as a full-time student. My family and friends have given me such a gift, that it seems I’ll never be able to fully repay their generosity and support. Even Kristina has taken hold of the ‘working two jobs’ reins to fully fund our family this season, and I’ll never be able to repay her for that.
During this time, I’ve had the opportunity to research something that [hopefully] will bless the Church and ultimately help the Church proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. I’ve achieved four degrees; the PhD will be my fifth – AND FINAL ONE. After all these degrees, I will come out completely debt-free on the other side, and it’s a miracle and a blessing. I’ve worked hard for several years and don’t regret it. However, within this work culture, I feel a profound sense of freedom from contracting out my self-worth and identity to unrealistic expectations. The gift of this season has been more than a time to research a PhD; the gift has been a time for me to research…me.
The biggest change I’m noticing in my work habits, even though I’m working as a research student, is that my identity is NOT in my work or vocation. It can’t be. Those have left me feeling vain and empty, and thus, I’ve connected my self-worth to the successes and failures that consequently follow, to no avail of peace or joy of myself.
My job, and the future job[s], will be that: jobs. Jobs/work will not be a means to an end, with the end being the fulfilment of purpose, dignity, joy, and peace. Therefore, I humbly refuse to place my self-worth and identity in my work and graciously accept who Jesus says I am.
His son. Forgiven. Loved.
I humbly deny anyone’s misperceptions of me, and I willingly love being the husband to Kristina and ‘daddy’ to Danika and Jon Andrew.
Those two titles mean the world to me, and I’ll work to maintain them. And to be called a follower and believer of Jesus Christ, well, that’s the only thing that matters beyond this weary land. So, I think I’ll cultivate the essence of Psalm 37 (verses 3 & 4) for ‘work,’ which is to: trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell in the land and feed on his faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart.
Yeah, I think that will ‘work,’ for me. How about you?