A Renewed Perspective on Work

This post is one of a growing series of posts on how percentile living drastically changed our incentives, goals, and views on many aspects of everyday life. You can find some of our other posts below:

As I’ve said before, when my wife and I first committed to living at a percentile, our thoughts mostly centered around wanting to have a bigger impact. We wanted to be able to give more. But what we came to find, relatively quickly, is that the benefits we experienced in our own life were far greater than the giving we were able to participate in. One of those benefits has to do with how we approach working.

Work As It Was Meant to Be

Work itself was not introduced in the fall of creation. In fact, the first example of work was creation itself. God spoke the world into creation intentionally and thoughtfully. And on the seventh day He rested.

So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.
Genesis 2:1-2, NLT

In this very first example of work, God shows us that work was intended as an expression of creativity and love. Through work, He brought forth all of creation. It is a good thing! We also see God’s intentions for men and women:

And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Genesis 1:28, ESV

God had big plans for man, and they involved work! He intended us to cultivate the Earth, to bring order to chaos just as He had done. Unfortunately, that beautiful picture of work only lasted for the first 2 chapters of the Bible.

The Curse of Work

In chapter 3 of Genesis, we see the results of the fall, when the perfect balance of God’s creation was radically disrupted by the selfishness of man.

And to Adam he said…
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
Genesis 3:17-19, ESV

Ever since this moment, we have experienced a broken version of work, one which involves thorns and thistles, sweat and toil. We’ve all experienced this play out in our own jobs. It’s that feeling that everything seems to be working against you – like there has to be a better way. Even for those in their “dream jobs” know that there is a constant uphill push involved in work. It’s hard!

Redeeming Work Through Percentile Living

First of all, it’s important to mention that Christ is the One who ultimately redeems our work, not us. When He died, He took full payment for our sin. Yet we still live in a broken world, at least until He returns to fully redeem it. As such, there is plenty of room for us to retain an unhealthy relationship with work. When we committed to percentile living, there were a number of significant shifts that happened in our approach to work that started to tear down some of these unhealthy patterns:

An Ability to Say “No”

As a physician resident, I do not have much say in how much or how little I work. The fact is that at some point, I need to get enough surgical experience to be able to safely care for and treat my patients, and I only have 5 years to do it. Alison, however, is a wedding photographer and her income is directly proportional to the amount of work she accepts. At her peak, she was shooting around 20 weddings per year amongst a variety of other types of shoots. That means she was away almost half of the weekends of the year.

Once we had passed our percentile, the incentive to take on more work began to focus much more on how much she enjoyed the work. As my call schedule began to heat up and as our family grew, she found that being gone 4 weekends in a row started to have less appeal. Could she still accept all those weddings? Of course! But we knew we would be giving that money away.

Looking from a slightly different perspective, you might wonder what the incentive is to work at all? Well, it actually becomes much clearer once you have passed your percentile. We have 2 kids and a foster daughter with us at the moment, with one more on the way. And while Alison loves being with them during the week, she also found that she gets gets a certain energy from being able to show her professional side with some regularity. Because of that, we’ve structured our lives and daycare schedule to make sure she will always be able to continue that work at the level that makes her happy. Do we need the money to live on? No, not most of it. But there is joy in the work she is doing. By filtering out the pull of more money, we are able to clearly see just exactly where that line is between work that brings her joy and work that adds undesired stress.

It might look a little different for you. Maybe you have been offered a promotion that will include a nice bonus, but will require you to pick up weekend hours. Or maybe you’ve been considering a job that would have a nice salary bump, but you’d be travelling 4 days per week. Maybe your work has a nice overtime incentive and you’ve been taking as many shifts as you can.

What if money was out of the picture? Would you still want to take the new job or the overtime? Maybe you would! But at least then you would know that it is purely for the satisfaction of the work you do. You’ve taken all the power of money out of your life. And you have the freedom to say “No”.

Life Without the Need for Comparison

Not long ago, I was talking with a friend who had recently made a percentile commitment. He described how despite being happy with his career, he had always found himself comparing himself to friends and colleagues who had chosen more profitable careers. He mentioned how he even knew some of them weren’t that happy with their jobs, but he still couldn’t help envying their success in the business world.

He continued on to describe the many changes he experienced after drawing a line for himself. Within hours, he found that comparing didn’t really make sense any more. With money stripped out of the equation, he found that the life that came with some of his friend’s jobs just didn’t make sense for him. What might make sense for one person who is single in their 20s doesn’t make sense for another person in their 30s with a family and kids.

The fact is that money can be such a powerful measure of success that it becomes the only measure of success. And it doesn’t help that the discrete numbers involved with money are so much easier to compare than something abstract like autonomy, relationships, or fulfillment.

The Joy of Work

Is it still possible to have a rough day at work or to deal with a difficult coworker? Absolutely. But we’ve found that it’s easier to see the fulfilling parts of the work we do more clearly, the way God designed work to be. And not only that, but we can more clearly see when we go over the line simply for the prospect of more money.

A Final Word

There are many changes that take place in our hearts when we commit to a percentile, and our spending is just one of them. To see how else we’ve been impacted, try some of the following posts:

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