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My career seems to have stalled

Jim says: I came to work for this company right out of college eight years ago. I think I do a good job – I deliver projects on time, customers request me for certain jobs, and I stay on top of new technologies. I’d like to become a consultant, but my career seems to have stalled. In recent reviews, I’ve heard, “You are a very good, solid performer. However, you seem to lack the enthusiasm necessary to become a consultant. Have you ever considered taking a Dale Carnegie course?” While this makes sense at some level, I feel as if I’m being asked to alter my personality. But how am I ever going to get ahead if I don’t do something to improve my image?

The expert says: In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey discusses his analysis of self-improvement literature from the past 200 years. He discovered that the writings from the first 150 years focused primarily on what he calls the Character Ethic, which says success is grounded in integrity, honesty, justice, simplicity and the Golden Rule. Over the last 50 years, on the other hand, the emphasis shifted to what he refers to as the Personality Ethic, which focuses on developing superficial techniques for improving our public image in areas such as speaking better or influencing people – basically working on the presentation rather than the substance. He says that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the Personality Ethic, but if your character is flawed, eventually the façade will crack. On the other hand, if you have a solid character, people will trust you.

Isn’t this how we know Jesus? He didn’t present himself like a tax collector or Pharisee. He was “just” a carpenter. But he glowed from within with the power of the Holy Spirit. His ability to speak and draw people’s attention didn’t come from self-improvement classes; it came from the mission for which his Father sent him into the world. Jesus said that all of us have this inner light, and that we shouldn’t hide it. (Luke 8:16) Our individual mission and success needs to be defined in God’s terms, not in terms of how this world defines success.

Just because Jim is a very good programmer doesn’t automatically mean he would make a good consultant. People are drawn to Jim’s natural easy-going demeanor and his ability to translate their needs into an effective computer program – they trust him. If Jim tries to change the surface to become someone he isn’t, he may lose that trust. We need to ask ourselves if what we’re pursuing, and how we’re pursuing it, is what God is really asking of us.