Life After A Transition By Alec Hill
Rebuilding Our Work Life After Transition
When Bob Lane left the presidency of John Deere, he described his transition as moving from a “core” job to a “portfolio” of jobs. He defined the former as his executive role and the latter as the variety of tasks awaiting him in the future. “I’m adjusting to having seven bosses,” he joked, citing four boards, consulting opportunities, and grand-parenting privileges.
Likewise, my career mostly focused on a series of single all-encompassing “core” positions (albeit on a smaller scale). And I’ve loved every one – from resettling refugees, to educating students, to impacting secular campuses with the Gospel. For a focused person like me, having a well-defined purpose was a sweet spot. I became adept at filling a single bucket.
But after surviving a bone marrow transplant six years ago, my work life changed dramatically. No longer a senior leader with a singular mission, my new status presented a scattering of random opportunities, a “portfolio” that included teaching, writing, consulting, and board service.
For some, such a potpourri of activities sounds wonderful. But for me – at least initially – it was alien, confusing, and disruptive. Locked into concentrated roles for most of my life, I found that managing a jumble of smaller tasks was a jarring paradigm shift. There were simply too many unrelated buckets!
It’s taken me some time to adjust and transition into this new reality. Along the way, I’ve learned three lessons.
(1) Find an Organizing Principle
In a core role, it is easy to identify a guiding principle – the ministry’s mission. But when we accumulate a portfolio of jobs, the scaffolding is removed and we need to discover our own personal sense of purpose.
Identifying a new north star proved more challenging to me than expected. Of course, there were the Great Commandments and the Great Commission but neither told me exactly where I fit into the big scheme. After a year of reflection – including long walks, journaling, and consulting with select friends – I sensed the Spirit nudging me to “develop the next generation of leaders.” I recall the liberation when first typing those words.
This newfound clarity made it easier to filter opportunities into “accept” and “decline” categories. As significantly, all of my disparate activities were united under a common theme. When asked what I do, I now simply reply: “I invest in rising leaders.” My work life coheres once again.
(2) Make an Anchor Commitment
To successfully navigate a portfolio of jobs, I found it important to make an “anchor commitment” of 10-15 hours a week. This may be volunteering at a food bank, taking a part-time job (or hobby), caring for grandkids, or serving on a board.
My anchoring passion is mentoring. Building long-term relationships with younger leaders provides me with a deep sense of purpose and joy. Without such a priority activity, life can feel chaotic, even random.
An anchoring commitment allows us to transition and settle on a vocational center and then build concentric circles of other projects around it. This provides us with a week-to-week rule of life, a predictable pattern which many of us need. As other tasks ebb and flow, it provides ballast in the boat.
(3) Relearn Time Flow Management
Time flow problems occur when we either have too much or too little work. One week can be calm – creating a false sense of control – before the next one descends into a glut of multiple projects. I confess that working for several bosses at the same time is a challenge for me. Though I try to schedule “big rocks” such as time with my wife and family, I still end up being overcommitted far too often.
Saying “no” to opportunities can be psychologically difficult for those of us who fear empty spaces in our calendars. Why? Because we dread being rudderless during unplanned down time. Because we fear the possibility of being forgotten. Because we secretly doubt that God will utilize us well.
But these are rotten excuses. I‘ve come to realize that when insecurities cause me to crowd out the Lord, family members, and friends, something is wrong. At a certain point, time flow management is not just a scheduling technique but a spiritual discipline. And while it is painful to confess such unspiritual fears, only by doing so are we able to progress on our discipleship journeys.
Though adjusting to a portfolio lifestyle caused me temporary angst, I can’t imagine ever going back. Life is simply too rich now.
Alec Hill is president emeritus of InterVarsity.
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