Parker Palmer is the author of one of my favorite books, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.
If you have not read it, then you need to stop what you are doing and get in your car and go pick it up. Or stop what you are doing and order it online. I either suggested it or handed it to a lot of my college students and recommend it to everyone.
All that to say, I came across this interview with him at The High Calling (by the way, they have an amazing assorment of great interviews).
And he just says some powerful things about vocation, work, identity, failure, ego, etc. that we all need to hear. I think that not only do we all need to read it and reflect upon it.
But, I’m concerned for those of us in ministry (we who are supposed to be teachers, leaders, modelers, mentors, etc.) who have our identity so tied up in our vocation and have it validated by success and driven by ego.
Interviewer: You’ve said, “The sense of self is very closely tied to what people do.” How does one bring identity into a profession, without losing oneself to that profession?
Parker Palmer: You’re asking, “How do we live open-heartedly in the world without having our hearts broken?” At 68, I have come to a simple conclusion: I have a choice to make.
Either I live with my heart open, investing in my work and taking the risks that come when the expression of my own truth might get me crosswise with people. Or I exist in my work and in the world in a closed-hearted way. To me this choice is a no brainer, because to be in the world in a closed-hearted way is to risk a kind of spiritual death, a death of integrity really. As Thomas Merton said, most of us live lives of self-impersonation. To be in the world as an impersonator of yourself, when selfhood is your birthright gift from God, is an insult to your Creator and certainly a diminishment of yourself. I have learned to choose to be in the world in an open-hearted way, because pain itself is a sign that I’m alive. Being open-hearted is my only chance at the joy that life can bring.
Interviewer: When we start connecting and bringing our identity to work, suddenly there’s a tremendous pressure to avoid failure, because our egos may be tied to our performance. How do we reconcile that?
Parker Palmer: I think ego is strongest when we are not in touch with our own identity as children of God. My ego, or false identity, is the piece that tells me that I’m something special, that I’m not anybody’s child, that I’m the leader of the pack. That’s the piece of me that doesn’t want to fail. The failures I’ve experienced and the pain brought as a result were because I was working heavily out of ego. When one works out of ego, the aim is not to serve your patients or your children. Instead it becomes about winning, looking good, and not being deprived of one’s perks. Identity and integrity rightly understood are the antidote to ego.
It’s baffling and troubling to me that there is this Christian cult of success that I actually think is very ego driven. So many Christians have embraced this cult of success.
You can find the first part of the whole interview here.