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5 Lessons for Balancing Work and Ambition

Millennials are obsessed with the idea of “having it all”—enjoying a job that helps them change the world and getting paid well for it. But the majority of jobs—especially those young people find right out of college—are not like this. While ambition can drive us to pursue more valuable work, it often becomes a huge stumbling block to a joyous life. It can even halt career advancement and prevent you from enjoying your work.

Here are five lessons to help Millennials along the path to contentment:

1. All Work Is Valuable

Millennials often think of success in terms of money or accomplishment. We were taught to look up to great trailblazers, like the world’s once-richest man—Bill Gates—or the inventor of the iPhone—Steve Jobs—or the founder of TOMS, the non-profit shoe distributor—Blake Mycoskie.

“The daily grind is actually a unique opportunity to bless others and achieve great things.”

These people are great role models, but looking up to them too much can cause us to stumble. When a 22-year-old college grad asks why she hasn’t invented a non-profit yet, or why her career trajectory doesn’t seem headed for the billion-dollar salary, she needs to hear that her present work is still valuable.

In a world where the sky really is the limit, those of us on the ground need to hear that the daily grind is actually a unique opportunity to bless others and achieve great things. Making fundraising phone calls for a living is drudgery if you let it be, but if you think instead about the value you add by connecting people and offering them the opportunity to support a cause they believe in, you realize you are far more than just a cog in a wheel.

All work is valuable—that is why people pay for it.

2. Work Is Not a Punishment

Many think of work as a punishment, something unnatural and annoying that society forces upon you. Some may cite God’s curse to Adam in Genesis, that “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17).

While work is intended to benefit others, who therefore provide compensation in return, it need not have a negative impact on the worker. If Jesus was correct in saying “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35) work is a blessing even more to the worker than his employer.

Far from being a curse, work was intended by God from the beginning. Not only did God work in creating the world, but He gave men and women the task of ruling over and caring for it (Genesis 1:28, 2:15). Work is one of the unique ways men and women reflect the image of God—it’s a fundamental aspect of human dignity.

3. Work Is Fulfilling

Not only is work not a punishment, it is also an avenue of human fulfillment. Ecclesiastes 2:24 notes that “there is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.”

The very reason Millennials admire people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Blake Mycoskie is that they have done good work that benefits men and women across the globe.

But you don’t have to invent the iPhone or send thousands of shoes to Africa to find joy in your work. Even the Chick-Fil-A shift manager who isn’t currently using his college degree has an opportunity to live a fulfilled life by improving the lives of others.

4. Ambition Can Keep You Down

Especially during the early days of your career, ambition can hurt as well as help. No longer do we live in an economy where you can settle down in one job for 40 years, climb the corporate ladder, and retire with a settled pension. But no employer wants to hire a serial job-hopper either. Loyalty may no longer look like 5 or 10 years, but you don’t want a resume that changes with three month intervals.

Nevertheless, switching jobs matters far less than your general attitude to work and your employer. If you believe your work to be more valuable than your salary or job title, and act upon that, you will likely find obstacles to climbing up the ranks.

As we all know, pride most certainly “comes before the fall,” or as Proverbs 18:12 says it, “before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.”

5. Don’t Forget the Joys of Your Current Job

Too often, men and women look forward to their next step so much that they neglect to enjoy their current situation. Single Christians want to get married so much that they often neglect to enjoy the freedoms they have without a spouse, and some high school students work so hard to get into a good college that they miss the opportunities to get involved in extracurricular pursuits.

It is very easy, especially for Millennials just starting out, to be so focused on the next step in a career that we miss out on the opportunities our current job presents. Like a kid so focused on growing up that he doesn’t enjoy recess, a young professional may be so obsessed with climbing the corporate ladder that he passes by the best parts of his current job—or even the reasons he chose it in the first place.

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