It had been a difficult week at work. Without warning, an innocuous issue became incendiary and although we salvaged the situation, my reputation was damaged. This thought preyed on my mind as I packed for a business trip to Europe. Travelling was usually an aspect of my role I enjoyed because I had the luxury of time alone, whilst I indulged my love for art and culture. However, this wasn’t the right time to be away from the office, but I had little choice as meetings had been scheduled weeks ago. With a heavy heart, I made my way to the airport and tried not to dwell on my future at the company.
Throughout the trip, I was careful not to betray my emotions and diligently undertook the responsibilities of my role. I was worried events had left me exposed and couldn’t shake a sense of impending doom because I knew I’d fallen short of expectations. However, by the time I returned to London, I was in a better frame of mind and threw myself into my work to demonstrate my commitment, as I waited for the dust to settle. The episode was soon forgotten and the status quo resumed, but a seed of discontent had been sown. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t resurrect my usual enthusiasm for my work and a malaise began to set in.
It was during this time that I was reading a book called “Women of Spirit” by Katherine Martin. It was about women who had the courage to follow their inner wisdom and make brave changes to live inspirational lives. I was moved by the true stories and reflected on them as I continued to pass through my own turbulence. By the time I finished the book, I came to a courageous decision. Although I’d pursued a career of my choice, I realised I was no longer fulfilled in my work and the recent difficulties had exposed my dissatisfaction. I decided I wanted to pursue a different path and make a fresh start, doing meaningful work, which helped people.
As faith had been an integral part of my life, I wanted to explore the possibility of encouraging people to develop a personal relationship with God, but didn’t know where to start. If I’d been committed to any religion, I would have pursued a path in ministry, but as there was no obvious answer to my calling, I continued with my career and postponed a spiritual vocation until retirement. As the years passed, I often thought about doing God’s work (as I called it), but without a definitive path to motivate change, I vacillated and did nothing.
Consequently, whilst reading “Women of Spirit”, I began to think about pursuing an unconventional route to carve out a life, which fulfilled my spiritual aspirations. I realised that I didn’t need a roadmap and could keep my plans fluid as I explored different avenues. So with the blessing of my family, I decided to quit my job and take a sabbatical year to discover whether it was possible to build a portfolio of work. I reflected on my decision for a few days, before announcing my resignation, to the astonishment of my colleagues.
Attempts were made to dissuade me, but once I explained the basis for my decision, the dissension fell away. I was contractually committed to a six-month notice period, which neatly took me to Christmas and meant my sabbatical could begin in January. I used my notice period to save money, reduced my outgoings and made arrangements to undertake paid freelance work if finances became stretched.
I then began to search for opportunities for the upcoming year and started by writing to BBC Radio Four, asking to become a guest speaker on Thought for the Day (a slot offering reflections from a faith perspective about issues in the news). I received a polite rejection on the basis that I didn’t have a religious profile. Undaunted, I decided to begin writing a book about experiencing God in everyday life and invited friends and family to send me anecdotes. I also sought positions in the voluntary sector, eventually becoming a volunteer at the head office of a global charity, a trustee for a charitable trust rehabilitating prisoners and a board member for an organisation working with the underprivileged.
By the time January arrived, I was excited about my new path and had no regrets about leaving my secure job. Although I’d convinced myself I was embarking on an experimental year, deep down I believed it was a permanent change and that perspective gave me a carefree outlook on life. I didn’t miss the corporate world and relished the freedom over my time, the break from routine and the refreshing mindset of my new colleagues. It was also a welcome change of pace and at first I was sufficiently satisfied just learning about the mechanics of the voluntary sector.
However, as spring turned to summer, I noticed the first stirrings of discontent. The fulfilment I’d expected to experience failed to materialise and I realised to my dismay that I’d simply exchanged one treadmill for another. I missed using the skills and abilities I’d spent years cultivating, making big decisions and working in a dynamic environment where there was always a sense of urgency. Furthermore, I realised that I was bored and missed the excitement of the corporate world. In fact I was so uninspired that I even stopped writing the book about God and found myself at an impasse, unsure about which direction to take, as I prepared to take a holiday with a friend.
We travelled to the Dolomites in Italy where I used the opportunity to reflect and consider my future. I felt adrift, but was uncertain about the way ahead and didn’t want to make a rash decision, which I might regret later. I knew the voluntary sector didn’t meet my needs, but had also become disenchanted with the corporate world and was reluctant to return to the life I’d left almost a year earlier. Furthermore, I was confused why God hadn’t helped my venture succeed, when I was certain it was God who guided me to take this step, through Women of Spirit.
One morning, as I set off for a run in the stunning valley which housed our village, even the majestic peaks of the Dolomites couldn’t lift my spirits. It should have served as the perfect backdrop for inspiration and a fresh perspective, but I had trouble motivating myself. I forced myself to keep running until I eventually broke into a rhythm and finished breathless and jubilant. As I began to head back to our hotel, I suddenly heard God speak to me and say, “Go back (home) and find a job. You will do the work that you long to do, but not yet. Go back and get a job.” The message was clear but gently delivered and I had no doubt it was God. The unsolicited guidance surprised me, but I welcomed it.
I hadn’t spoken to God about my predicament because I was confused and wanted to be clear about my next step, before seeking guidance. However, as I mulled over His words, I knew they made sense. I was reluctant to admit failure but had to concede that I longed to return to work and bring my sabbatical year to an end. I was also encouraged by God’s guidance because it vindicated the path I’d taken, whilst pointing out that the timing was wrong.
We finished our holiday and I returned home feeling a burden had been lifted as I began to search for a new job. By Christmas, I’d accepted a role in a new sector, taking a large pay cut. As I settled back into my life, I had no regrets about the path I’d taken and believed a return to the bottom of the career ladder was a small price to pay for the certainty of knowing I was in the right profession. I never again ventured away from the corporate world.
There were other lessons I learnt at a deeper level. I learnt that I didn’t have to leave my job to do God’s Work and could it anywhere, in any company, organisation or sector. God needs people everywhere and not just in the soup kitchens or homeless shelters. In every workplace there are people who need comfort, hope, encouragement and inspiration and God’s work shouldn’t be limited to material support, overlooking the importance of spiritual sustenance and emotional wellbeing. I also realised I’d made a judgement about God valuing the voluntary sector above the corporate sector and recognised I was wrong. God values all sectors (and professions) because what matters most to God is not the work we choose to do, but how we use it to help others.