Most likely you’ve viewed numerous commercials advising the need to start retirement planning as early as possible so that you can live comfortably or to care for your needs in the golden years. It’s an attractive prospect for aging millennials. No more long commutes to work. No more hassles dealing with uncooperative people or someone else telling you what to do all the time. No more reminding subordinates of approaching deadlines. It means you can finally do nothing but kick back and enjoy life and live it up. However, there’s something the advertisers don’t tell you — God designed you to work before sin entered the world and to find meaning in work throughout eternity. And, contrary to what some believe, work is not a curse but a gift to us. Granted most, if not all of us, will lose vitality as we age in this fallen world or lose our health altogether. But if God designed us for work before the fall, he must have wanted us to find meaning in it. So, what should my attitude be regarding career and retirement?
Spiritual Attitude Regarding Work & Retirement
Authors Jinkook Lee and James P. Smith (2009) address the subject of retirement in an article entitled Work, Retirement, and Depression. Their research indicates that retirement is not always what it appears. In some instances, retirees experience a sense of depression because they no longer interact with their former peers in the workplace. And because employers look for younger employees with newer skills and smaller salaries, it often becomes challenging for these older workers to maintain a presence in the workforce. This is, however, in contrast to older workers who find satisfaction in a hobby or alternate line of work suitable for their age. Some continue working in a company beyond retirement years due to the nature of the job, such as being an insurance salesman or educator.
Elizabeth White, author of “55, Underemployed, and Faking Normal: Your Guide to a Better Life”
Now you may be thinking, “Okay! That’s well and good. But what does that have to do with me? I’m putting away for retirement. What else is there?” I’m glad you asked. As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, we know that because we are made in God’s image our lives have meaning and purpose when we walk in His will. Scripture says, “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). My question is have you and I considered work plans that involve being fully engaged in some form of work beyond retirement? In other words, are you developing a Christo-centric mindset that allows you to develop the right spiritual attitude to make satisfying and essential career transitions?
Why is this significant? A few things come to mind. You may have noticed the world continues to change at a torrid pace, which means those skills you acquired through all of your hard work is at risk of becoming obsolete very fast. And so your journey to retirement may be significantly challenged due to resource drain from acquiring new skills. This, in turn, may require you to work longer than expected and most likely have to adapt to newer and more expensive realities. It appears that the challenge facing a new generation of Christians is can they maintain an eternal perspective regarding work, adapt to a changing society, and develop adequate retirement funds without hoarding.
Doing Lifelong Purposeful Work
I grew up in a struggling African American neighborhood in Little Rock, AR, watching men and women of color working as janitors, cooks, handymen, and bus drivers. No one talked to me about my career aspirations in a significant way. I don’t know where I got the idea, but I just knew I wanted to be an artist or a photographer. It was nothing for me to lose myself for hours in a drawing project; however, I could never muster up enough money to pursue the photography dream.
When I became a Christian, my dreams and pursuits took a detour as I yearned to find a purpose in what I was doing. I took up engineering and architectural drafting in high school and then a year in college. I was surprised when I landed a job with a small architectural and engineering firm. The experience was rewarding, but it didn’t fulfill my drive for meaning and purpose. After a year-long battle with cancer, my mother went home to be with the Lord.
I left the firm and decided to attend Calvary Bible College in Kansas City, MO in hopes of finding answers to what God wanted me to do. For five years, I trained as a pastor and radio broadcaster. My “purpose” didn’t reveal itself until I was appointed news director of a small radio station in Atlanta for Moody Radio. The station was part of a larger network of several around the U.S., and I discovered my love for urban outreach. It was the purpose I had been searching for. Through years of trials and challenges, I earned an MBA and a Doctor of Business Administration.
Looking back on my life and calling in Christ, I feel this deep sense of loss and regret that I discovered a deeper purpose later in life. I sense that growing up in a single parent household without the exposure to academic mentors and professionals prevented me from awakening from pursuing amazing opportunities and reaching my God-given potential earlier. Yet, all along the way, I have maintained an embedded desire to do something significant and purposeful. In a very real sense, the Lord has graciously granted me my childhood dream by transforming me into an artist and photographer with a different kind of canvas in which I utilize graphics, communication, and business research/analysis to illustrate the path to a better way of life for others.
Spiritual & Psychological Impact of Working Purposefully
In my estimation, God is the supreme master craftsman who has designed and wired humanity to live with purpose. A team of educational psychology researchers at the University of Louisville, KY — Kosine, Steger, and Duncan — seem to have a pretty good handle on the subject from a scientific perspective. In their research, The Purpose-Centered Career Development: A Strengths-Based Approach to Finding Meaning in Careers, the authors found that people who view work as meaningful are more satisfied and more committed employees. Their findings seem to dovetail what the Word of God talks about regarding the principle of living with purpose.
Essentially, developing a God-shaped mind to work with purpose is usually a work in progress that takes effort and intentionality. It means we become followers of Christ who creatively exercise our minds to filter career and life plans through our relationship with Christ. It means we need to take into account our natural bent and allow the Lord to shape and mold what we’ve come to know and understand about ourselves. It’s not easy letting go and letting Him rearrange things in our lives. Developing a God-shaped mind to work with purpose means we adopt principles of design thinking, which is simply making sure our career passions and goals align with all that He is and all that we are in Him. Even though you may feel a sense of regret for missed opportunities like I sometimes do, I’ve come to realize that so many are insignificant and I am what I am today because of the Lord was busy shaping and molding me through my circumstances.
Kosine, N. R., PhD., Steger, M. F., PhD., & Duncan, S., Ph.D. (2008). Purpose-centered career development: A strengths-based approach to finding meaning and purpose in careers. Professional School Counseling, 12(2), 133-136. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/home/pcx
Lee, J., & Smith, J. P. (2009). Work, retirement, and depression. Journal of Population Ageing, 2(1-2), 57-71. doi:10.1007/s12062-010-9018-0
Dr. Shreni N. Zinzuwadia, a critical care specialist in Newark, NJ, quietly brings her faith into the emergency room every day.
“Whenever I’m resuscitating somebody in a cardiac arrest, I know that it’s not me. They’re either going to survive because God wants them to survive, or they’re not, because that’s just their destiny. I never think it’s me actually saving a life. I go into every single room doing everything I can to help them survive, and then, I know it’s not in my hands. I know it’s in the hands of a higher power,” said Dr. Zinzuwadia, a Christian and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School.
Being a person of faith and a leader in the medical industry can be challenging because the field is traditionally all about science and evidence-based medicine. People don’t talk about faith.
“I think it is frowned upon. We’re in a society that’s Christ-rejecting, so you are going to be the odd man out if you want to bring your faith into your practice. I keep it to myself, and I get a sense of each patient and see where their head is at. If I feel like there’s an opening to share faith than I do.”
Many aspiring healthcare professionals get into the industry because they genuinely want to help people. Some feel called to support underserved urban areas, others assist rural communities. But even the most dedicated professionals are starting to question whether the years of education and training were all worth it given the cut-throat decision-making when it comes to deciding who gets what care and how much is paid for it. On top of that, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports that by the year 2020 the U.S. will face a shortage of 91,500 physicians. By the year 2025, that number is expected to climb to 130,600. Facing these daunting figures, it’s more important than ever to encourage Christians who are leaders in the healthcare field to boldly share their ideas in the spirit of transforming the industry to be more Christ-like – or, at the very least, to be more empathetic to people in need of care and those who serve them.
What’s really going on?
So why are doctors leaving what has traditionally been considered a highly respected and desired profession in one of the wealthiest countries in the world? In the article “Physicians aren’t ‘burning out.’ They’re suffering from moral injury,” Drs. Simon Talbot and Wendy Dean report that doctors are caught in the crosshairs between honoring their Hippocratic Oath and making a profit for stakeholders (i.e., hospitals, health care systems, insurers, patients, and doctors), often at the expense of affordable quality care. In their assessment, the need is great for courageous leadership willing to pave the way for physicians to perform their duties without the extra bureaucratic baggage draining the system.
“It’s routine for insurance companies to deny claims and make the hospitals and physicians work doubly and triply hard to get paid for services rendered. It puts us in such a position where we’re not getting paid, and insurance companies, specifically, have just decided they will not pay you what you’re asking for. Whatever you’re charging, they’ll arbitrarily decide they’re not going to pay you that. They’re going to pay you 30 percent of that. And there’s no platform or representative for doctors to fight them,” said Dr. Zinzuwadia.
The billing and insurance claims and coverage complaints are of particular concern to people of color, and African Americans in particular, who aren’t adequately represented in the medical field. In an NBC News article by Dr. Shamard Charles’ titled “The dearth of black men in medicine is worrisome. Here’s why,” Charles explains that it’s crucial for more men like him to enter the field because black doctors are more likely to serve in underserved communities where there are higher rates of chronic disease and incarcerations are rampant. He’s convinced that more black doctors in the healthcare system may establish greater trust in the system and a stronger doctor-patient relationship in troubled neighborhoods.
So how do Christians turn things around and have an impact?
People in positions of power and influence need to encourage and develop Christian business leaders who are biblically and theologically trained. Men and women of this caliber must be able to navigate the complexities of the system while embracing a deep and vibrant faith in Christ in the face of an increasingly Christ-rejecting society. Spirit-filled individuals of this nature will most likely exhibit traits mirroring what is known as transformational and/or servant leadership.
Christians in healthcare can model a positive leadership style by living a life of integrity and working to change beneficial policies. Though there are many, at least two leadership styles have proven effective in influencing job culture — transformational and servant leadership. Numerous scholars, including famed author James MacGregor Burns, affirm the power and influence of transformational leadership, a widely regarded leadership style with the ability to enact impactful social change among individuals and cultures by motivating followers to become leaders.
Another famed servant leader, research scholar, Robert K. Greenleaf, believes that servant leadership is based on the heartfelt desire to serve others. This kind of leader is preoccupied with his follower’s development as a person over the actual job itself. It’s easy to see the two traits modeled in the Lord Jesus Christ and relayed through the centuries to the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The exciting news is that Spirit-filled Christians are empowered to live out these principles practically in positions of authority because of the indwelling Holy Spirit, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor 5:17).
Leonard Mlodinow, author of “Why you need to become an elastic thinker,”expertly captures the essence of what’s demanded of the modern workforce. He writes about the need for contemporary workers to become elastic thinkers or employees who can adapt quickly to change and can think openly about new ideas. This principle bodes well with healthcare industry business leaders who are no less challenged by the call to adapt quickly to uncertain market conditions birthed from emerging technologies. But the question arises, does elastic thinking complement or conflict with Spirit-filled living in Christ? The call is clear for Christians to have a mindset on Christ and a passion for being led by the spiritual principle “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:2). Elastic thinking involves a great deal of mental exertion and time that can potentially rob you from experiencing the “peace of Christ that passes all understanding.” Yet, at the same time, it can be beneficial in sharpening your mind to approach problems afresh with a new perspective.
Christian healthcare business leaders have an opportunity to influence and shape the future healthcare system by being the catalyst who shape the culture by personal life example, policy recommendation, and administrative posturing. Healthcare business leaders can also reinvigorate the development of critical relationships between the Bible and theological training with the health profession.
“I think we should all be faith-based. We would all treat each other better, respect each other more. We’re a little more selfless in our interactions with people when we’re faith-based. I just feel like it should permeate everything we do,” said Dr. Zinzuwadia.
Yang, C. (2014). Does ethical leadership lead to happy workers? A study on the impact of ethical leadership, subjective well-being, and life happiness in the Chinese culture. Journal of Business Ethics, 123(3), 513-525. doi:10.1007/s10551-013-1852-6
Weichun Zhu Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations College of Liberal Arts The Pennsylvania State University University Park, PA 16802 Phone: (814) 865-9116 Email: [email protected]
John J. Sosik School of Graduate Professional Studies at Great Valley The Pennsylvania State University 30 East Swedesford Road Malvern, PA 19355 Phone: (610) 648-3254 Email: [email protected]
Ronald E. Riggio Kravis Leadership Institute Claremont McKenna College Claremont, CA 91711 Phone: (909) 607-2997 Email: [email protected]
Baiyin Yang, Department of Human Resources and Organizational Behavior School of Economics and ManagementTsinghua University Beijing, China 100084 Phone: 86-10-6279-6314 Email: [email protected]