So you want to take on the challenge of personal development? As our Australian friends would say, “Good on ya!” We could all use a jolt of motivation to wake us up from the complacency of the status quo.
As A.W. Tozer wrote in an article entitled, “Our Hope is in Our Changeability,” “Few worse calamities could be imagined for us than to have our lives frozen at their present levels.” The natural urge to develop and grow is a necessary launching pad for positive change.
However, we should be careful not to fall into the common trap of aiming for goals outside of (or short of) our intended ultimate purpose. God made humans with exquisite objectives in mind. This is what the Psalmist means when he writes, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
In this article, we are going to explore 5 ways that personal development can benefit your career. If you think about it, working in some type of career field is how many of us will spend the majority of our waking hours, so developing ourselves in ways that will directly benefit our career is a worthy pursuit.
The Value of Work
Some Christians think of vocational work in a career outside of ministry as too “worldly” to be of any spiritual significance, but such work was actually God’s first mandate to humanity! As we read in Genesis, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15).
Later on, in the Bible’s practical guide to wisdom for life (the book of Proverbs), the writer points out the undeniable tangible benefits of work when he writes, “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23). And when the apostle Paul urges Christians, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart” (Colossians 3:23a), he is suggesting that it’s not so much what you do, but how you do it that brings true value to your work.
As John Piper writes in his book, Don’t Waste Your Life, “Therefore, the burning question for most Christians should be: How can my life count for the glory of God in my secular vocation?”
Not Just a Career, a Calling
Let’s take a moment to think about what a career is since in this article we are seeking ways to benefit your career. I like to conceive of a career as part of a personal “calling” for your life from the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. The idea of work as a calling elevates it and magnifies its significance.
When you begin to approach work in this way, suddenly you have more than just an occupation, you have a divine mandate, rich with meaning and purpose beyond yourself.
In the book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World, Timothy Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf explore the ways in which a career can be a calling from God.
Some of the important takeaways are:
Your career is not just about you. It’s about others.
In the book, Keller points out that “Our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others.” Expanding your perspective beyond the modern cultural idea of work as self-fulfillment actually enriches the concept of vocational work.
The fact that your job is about more than you, that it is directed outward at others, demonstrates its meaningfulness and vitality. Your career will benefit from this outward focus in the same way that a living, healthy sea flourishes because water is constantly flowing in and out of it, while the Dead Sea, which is fed by water flowing in but has no outlet, stagnates and dries up.
Any career can be a calling.
Keller also highlights the illuminating fact that “No task is too small a vessel to hold the immense dignity of work given by God.” Again, be careful here not to be taken in by societal views about what makes a job “important” enough to be valued. I’m talking about things like prestige, income level, visibility, and acclaim, all of which our culture idolizes.
I have known many who were crushed by the pressure to conform to the image what our society values in a career. The truth is that just about every job is necessary and has intrinsic value if done with all your heart for the glory of God.
The way to fulfill your calling is to do your work well.
Finally, Keller emphasizes that “The way to serve God best is to do the job as well as it can be done.” What a revolutionary concept! If you want to make the most of your career, put your best effort into the work you do. Paul urges us to work “as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23b).
5 Ways Personal Development Can Benefit Your Career
So, what are 5 ways that personal development can benefit your career?
1. It Wakes You Up
Those of us who enjoy some level of comfort and affluence in our lives are constantly in danger of falling victim to the occupational hazard of settling into a sleepy, complacent state of existence. I find that many people view exertion or strain of any kind in a negative light, choosing instead the path of least resistance.The problem with preferring this type of easy, calm environment over ventures that require effort is that it will often bring your career to a standstill. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who specialized in working with patients who had lost all motivation and purpose in life. He found that awakening a desire for meaning fulfillment (or a “will to meaning”) drastically improved moods and motivation levels while decreasing depression and anxiety in patients. Frankl writes,
“Tension is not something to avoid unconditionally, and peace of mind, or peace of soul, is not anything to avow unconditionally. A sound amount of tension, such as the tension which is aroused by a meaning to fulfill, is inherent in being human and is indispensable for mental well-being. What man needs, first of all, is that tension which is created by direction.” – Viktor Frankl
Personal development can be a sort of “jump-start” to reinvigorate your career by providing the direction, purpose, and drive that are necessary to get you in gear.
2. It Gives You Vision
Is your perspective limited to what is immediately in front of you? Despite popular ideas about the value of “living in the moment”, it is possible to become so short-sighted that you stop seeking progress in your life or career. Creating a personal development plan based on the things that matter most to you forces you to look ahead and consider where you would like to be down the road.
A Christian counselor can support you in this, not by telling you what you should aspire to, but rather by helping you explore and reflect on the ideal outcomes in your personal, spiritual, or career life. You have likely heard the expression that you should “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”
That type of proactive anticipation of a future position requires a vision of what it would look like if you had that job. Like a gifted marksman, you will need to identify and see the target before you can use your skills to hit the mark.
3. It Forces You to Make Plans
It has been wisely said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” In other words, a vision is not enough on its own. One of the dominant messages of western culture today is, “If you can dream it you can do it.” As well-intentioned as this statement is, experience demonstrates that it ain’t necessarily so.
Think about it, what if every boy in school dreamed of being the star quarterback on the football team? Does that mean that they could all fulfill that dream? Of course not! But the boy who does fulfill it will no doubt have made plans and acted on those plans.
Don’t be discouraged if your dreams are bold an audacious, but do realize how much planning and effort those bold, audacious dreams will require from you in order to be realized. Divide your overall vision into smaller goals, and break your goals down into small, realistic, actionable steps.
Then begin. Take the first step. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The vision or the dream is only an inspiring look up at a mountain before beginning the long, hard slog up its steep slopes. It is a necessary breath of fresh air before a grueling ascent.
One note of caution when making plans: Never allow your plans to overshadow God’s will for your life. James reprimanded early Christians who were trusting too much in their own vision and boasting about their plans for the future, instructing them instead to yield to God’s will in all things.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” – James 4:13-15
4. It Helps You Evaluate Your Strengths and Weaknesses
This is often hard for people, but it is necessary. How can you be successful if you overestimate or underestimate your abilities? Take a step back and honestly evaluate your areas of potential growth (without being too hard on yourself). Then take time to recognize the strengths that you bring to the table (without becoming arrogant about them).
Ask those who know you, those close to you. Friends and family often see more than you can see in yourself. If they love you, they will likely enjoy the opportunity to highlight your great qualities, and they will be gentle when speaking about your flaws. Interviewers often ask questions about this because they want to know how well you can honestly self-evaluate.
5. It Sets You Apart
Finally, and most importantly, taking the initiative to focus on personal development will instantly separate you from the masses. The sharpness of your focus and the quality of work will noticeably improve, causing you shine and catch the attention of those around you.
More importantly, if your plan for personal development includes growth of character and trust in God (and it should), you will stand out in the best possible ways. In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul lists the wonderful “fruit” that is produced in the life of a Christian by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Think about how dramatically a man or woman who embodied all these qualities at once would stand out in your workplace:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. – Galatians 5:22-23a
You may be thinking, “That’s nice, but in order to be successful in business you have to be brutal, you have to fight and claw and scratch your way to the top.” It is true that some have climbed corporate ladders by cutthroat means. However, those who do reach the top find it to be what mountaineers call a “false summit.”The most popular climbing route to the top of Mount Rainier, the highest peak in Washington state, is a rocky ridge between the Ingraham and Emmons glaciers called “Disappointment Cleaver.” I have heard various stories about how it got the name, but my personal favorite tells of a group of early climbing pioneers who reached the high point of the ridge expecting to top out on the summit, only to find that the true summit loomed above and beyond.
Whether or not the tale is true, it illustrates well the disappointment that awaits those who pursue career heights at the expense of integrity, love, and reverence for Christ.
A Higher Plan
In personal development and career aspirations, remember that a career is only meaningful when it is a calling from God and that it is His plans that will ultimately be fulfilled in your life. As Solomon wisely reminds us, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
If you have decided to finally give attention and effort to a personal development plan that will benefit your career and help you rise to your higher calling, reach out to one of the Christian counselors in our organization today. We would consider it an honor to come alongside you and support your endeavor.
Frankl, Viktor E. (1970). The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy. New York: New American Library.
Keller, T., Alsdorf, K. L., & Redeemer Presbyterian Church (2012). Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. New York, N.Y.: Dutton.
Lewis, C. S. (2001). Mere Christianity: A revised and amplified edition, with a new introduction, of the three books, Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.
Piper, John (2003). Don’t Waste Your Life. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.
Tozer, A.W. (1997). The early Tozer: A Word in Season, Selected Articles and quotations. Compiled by James L. Snyder. Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications.
“Raise Your Hands”, Courtesy of Agnieszka Boeske, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Taller Than the Trees”, Courtesy of Sean Pollock, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Diary and Desk”, Courtesy of Anete Lūsiņa, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Higher Goal”, Courtesy of Joshua Earle, Unsplash.com; CC0 License