Am I in the Right Career? (A Glimpse of Work from “Shop Class as Soulcraft”)

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In 2010, Matthew Crawford wrote his part-memoir, part-philosophical discourse, part-challenge of the status quo Shop Class as Soul Craft.  The subtitle gives us a bit more information about what this book is about: “An Inquiry into the Value of Work.”  As our church is currently going through a series on faith and vocation, I thought it would be interesting to read this New York Times bestseller and see what those outside of the church are saying about the value of work.

"Shop Class as Soulcraft" by Matthew Crawford, 2010.
“Shop Class as Soulcraft” by Matthew Crawford, 2010.

This book is an attempt to provide a helpful corrective to the workforce today in the United States, one that is dominated increasingly (if not in numbers then in attention) by the information sector.  Crawford (who has a Ph.D in the History of Political Thought and a M.A. in Philosophy) found himself working for a think tank in D.C. when he realized that he wasn’t receiving the satisfaction from his work that past work had given him (he had worked as an electrician and other odd “manual labor” jobs during school).  Because of this, he left behind his career associated with politics to open a motorcycle repair shop in Virginia.

His main argument?  There is a greater sense of accomplishment in repairing motorcycles than there is in working for the think tank.  Working with your hands, you can see the results of a day’s work much more easily than you can when working in the information sector.

I take no issue with his statement here.  Although I work in what would be labeled as the “information sector,” I enjoy working on home projects because I can see the results of my labor much more easily.   He even challenges the state of academia today in undervaluing manual labor and desiring that all high schoolers go on to get a college degree.  He writes,

“A good diamond cutter has a different disposition than a good dog trainer. The one is careful, the other commanding. Different kinds of work attract different human types, and we are lucky if we find work that is fitting. There is much talk of “diversity” in education, but not much accommodation of the kind we have in mind when we speak about the quality of a man, or woman: the diversity of dispositions. We are preoccupied with demographic variables, on the one hand, and sorting into cognitive classes, on the other. Both collapse the human qualities into a narrow set of categories, the better to be represented on a checklist or a set of test scores.”

Excerpt From: Matthew B. Crawford. “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work.” ebook.

I fully appreciate Crawford’s statement, but not just because it feels good to me.  Crawford puts his finger on something that Genesis 1-3 talk about: the value of all work in God’s eyes.  Genesis 2:15 tells us,

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

(Genesis 2:15 ESV)

From the very beginning (before the Fall of humanity when sin entered the world), God intended for humanity to work.  And the work that he had set before them?  Manual labor in the garden.  Read Genesis 2 and you will see that God himself does manual labor.  He gets his hands dirty when creating all things.  God values manual labor much more highly than most of us likely do.

For this piece of common grace, I am thankful for Crawford’s book.  Lest one think that that he himself is guilty of undervaluing non-manual labor however (which could be assumed from some of the tone in his book), Crawford writes,

“My point, finally, isn’t to recommend motorcycling in particular, nor to idealize the life of a mechanic. It is rather to suggest that if we follow the traces of our own actions to their source, they intimate some understanding of the good life. This understanding may be hard to articulate; bringing it more fully into view is the task of moral inquiry. Such inquiry may be helped along by practical activities in company with others, a sort of conversation in deed. In this conversation lies the potential of work to bring some measure of coherence to our lives.”

Excerpt From: Matthew B. Crawford. “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work.” eBook.

Crawford seems to recognize that not everyone is meant to be a mechanic.  Not everyone is meant to be a politician.  Not everyone is meant to be a pastor.  Not everyone is meant to be a stay-at-home mother.  Not everyone is meant to be an electrician.  Each of us is gifted uniquely for a specific role here on earth.  If you feel guilty for not working in a certain job, don’t.  If you feel like you want to move on to another career that “fits you better,” do.

All work matters to God.


How Do I Deal with Difficult Co-Workers and Bosses?

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The comic strip “Dilbert” has been a newspaper staple since its creation in the late 1980’s.  The comic deals with all things work-related: micromanaging bosses, bureaucracy, and ineptitude in the workplace.  Another common topic?  How to deal with difficult personalities in the workplace.

Frustrated with your co-workers? (Photo courtesy of PhotoPin.)

Perhaps you can relate to this theme.  You’ve sought out professional guidance and counsel to deal with that “one” co-worker.  You’ve turned to internet articles and even books on managing conflict in the workplace, all to no avail.

But what does the Bible have to say about handling difficult people in the workplace?  Thankfully, a lot.  In fact, Peter addresses this very issue in 1 Peter 2:18-19:

“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”

(1 Peter 2:18–19 ESV)

I think Peter gives us four truths that can help us when faced with difficult personalities in the workplace:

1. Willfully Submit to Authority.

Notice how Peter begins: “Servants, be subject to your masters.”  No matter how difficult our work situation may be, God wants his people to willfully submit to the authority that is in their lives.  Why?  Because a willful, joyful submission to human authorities is one of the ways that we submit to God himself!

2. Show Respect for All.

Peter tells us how to subject ourselves to our bosses: “with all respect.”  This is one of the ways that we submit to our bosses: doing so with respect.  But we also show respect to our bosses when we treat our co-workers with respect as well.

Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that all of humanity is created in the image of God.  Because of that image, each of us has innate dignity.  In other words, we treat others with respect because they reflect God, no matter how mean, immoral, lazy, or selfish they may be.

3. See Difficulties as a Chance to Grow Spiritual Muscles.

You are in a difficult situation at work.  There’s no sugar-coating it.  But have you ever thought that God placed you in that situation to help you grow spiritually?  Peter thinks so.  That’s what he says in verse 19: “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endure sorrow while suffering unjustly.”

When someone else takes credit for your work and blames you for their own mishaps, it’s natural to want to lash out.  But God reminds us that these are opportunities to “grow in grace.”  Need an example of what this look like?  Look to Jesus, Peter says.

“When [Jesus] was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

(1 Peter 2:23 ESV)

Next time you are faced with conflict at work, remember that this is a way God wants to make you more like him.  He’s giving you the chance to be like Jesus—to endure hardship without retaliation.

4. You Work for an Audience of One.

Peter closes with perhaps the most important truth to remember: who you ultimately work for.  Why is it that we submit to our bosses willingly?  Why is it that we show respect to others?  Because our work is ultimately for God, not for others.

As a Christian, you ultimately work for God.  And because you work for God, you want to please him.  We do this by trusting that he knows what he is doing giving us difficult co-workers and bosses.  We do this by seeking to model him in difficult times.  We do this, because our attempts are pleasing and honoring to God.

Remember Who You Work For

Remembering that God is your gracious, empowering boss helps when your real boss is far from gracious and empowering.  You may still struggle, but remembering this truth is crucial for dealing with difficult bosses and co-workers.