The other day I realized I was overly focused on my career.
This was convicting to me. I realized that many of my goals, desires, and thoughts centered around my career. This is why I resolved to improve my character and lead a whole life in 2016 — something that’s not necessarily related with my career.
But I also realized I’m not alone in doing this.
In today’s society, plenty of us favor the success that comes from our careers than the success that stems from our character. As we plot out goals, we pine for the ambitions that move us further in our career and rarely for the actions that improve our character.
Career and character. Both often come with a tension.
When I discovered I was overly focused on my career, I turned to the life of Jesus for wisdom. And something stuck out to me.
Jesus was a carpenter. This was his career. And yet, we don’t hear much about how Jesus made goals to achieve more in this field. We don’t see Jesus focusing on His career at all.
This story Jesus told with His life is far different than the professional, career-oriented stories we tell.
Now, I’m not saying caring about your job is bad. What I’m saying is, it’s bad when it takes precedence over every other meaningful thing in life. And this is what’s happening. Our careers are becoming all we focus on. Jesus, however, led a life that signaled something else we should focus on.
Jesus didn’t focus on becoming a better carpenter, but He did care about how others became better people.
And I think this is very telling for the sort of lives we should lead. It’s a life that focuses more on our character than our careers.
Why Are We Focused on Our Careers?
We should lead lives that are focused on character over career. Jesus understood this distinction and practiced it in His own life. Jesus understood that our career is of much smaller significance than our character.
If anything, Jesus understood that meaningful, satisfying careers lean on our character. If we grow in character, we can flourish with meaning in our careers. This is because the more our careers are in sync with our internal convictions and morality, the more meaning we’ll draw from them.
But inversely, great character does not depend on our career. Our character is not positively correlated with an increase in wealth and success.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see that our character should warrant more of our focus than our careers.
So then, why do we overly focus our careers?
Several factors play into this. But I think it all boils down to what we believe will help us more in the long run.
We believe financial stability and good career standing will be more beneficial for the success of our lives. In other words, we think focusing on our careers will make us better people.
But that’s not entirely the case.
The Difference Between Character and Career
We shouldn’t entirely focus on our careers because concerning ourselves with our careers doesn’t make us better people. A concern with character does however. Here’s how:
A life of character is built upon habits practiced consistently in private and in public. Without habits enforcing what you believe, you don’t have a strong character.
Meanwhile, a career is simply the result of moving things forward. While you might have habits that help you in your career, your career doesn’t necessitate habits like character does. With a career-centered life, your success depends on how well you execute on certain items.
I mention this because an overemphasis on our careers will lead us to only commit to one-off goals for the rest of our lives. In other words, we’ll only be concerned with marking items off a list and moving onto the next thing.
But an emphasis on character will lead us to build healthy systems full of meaningful habits.
To sum up, a concern with character makes us better people because it focuses us on building healthy and meaningful habits. A concern with career only focuses us on marking items off a list and moving onto the next thing.
It’s systems-thinking vs. goals-thinking. Many of us love goals when we should love systems. Systems allow us to scale and replicate faster. But goals only center us on doing the next thing.
In the end, we need a healthy system in place before we need to be moving things forward. We need a character full of meaningful habits in place more than we need to grow our career.
This is how we become better people — not with career status or wealth, but with a healthy system of habits culminating in strong character.
It’s easy to prioritize career in today’s driven culture. But overly focusing on our careers will not make us better people. Concerning ourselves with character first will.
So as you look forward to the rest of this year, do you see yourself being more focused on career than you are on character?
We should all take a page from the life of Jesus and focus more on becoming better people through character rather than career. It only requires a shift in perspective — to see that in the end, character is more important, foundational, and beneficial in the long run than our career is.
Live this shift in perspective out by making plans to improve in character, not just your career, this year. Fight the inclination to obsess over matters of career, and keep an eye on the invisible matters of character. Doing so will ensure a more meaningful return than a heavy focus on our careers will.
Focus on character first and tell a better, more Christ-like story with your life.
NOTE: If you want to learn more about the relationship between character and career and how you can prioritize character in your workplace, then check out my new guide, Jesus Workforce, releasing February 2016! Click here to find out more.