Wednesday, October 12, 2005

What Has God Made Me Good At?

Rabbi Gellman has written another great article called What God Made Us Good At, which has provided me with lots of things to ponder this evening...

Some extraordinary adults remember what all ordinary children know: the key to life is to love what God made you good at and to do what you love.

Knowing what God made you good at has nothing to do with the job you work at to pay the rent. So when you know the secret of doing what you love, it does not necessarily mean that you will get a job doing it. There are not that many paying jobs for good listeners or good fight-enders or good takers of things apart or good bedtime-story readers or loyal friends or good feelers of the kinship of sorrow. Occasionally you can snag a job doing exactly what God made you good at-- —I thank God every day that this happened to me, but that is the life equivalent of winning the lottery. The odds on this happening are very long.

Actually, fortunately for me, there are paying jobs for "good takers of things apart" and I happen to have one. I'm an engineer. I get paid to put things together, take things apart, and even to break things!

So for those of you who feel trapped in jobs you hate, or in classes where you are being forced to study subjects you hate, take hope from this secret of life. Your schoolwork or your job or your obligations to make lunch for the kids every single day need not stop you from doing what you love today. Your life is not only your job or your grade in school, or your family obligations. Your life is fuller than that, broader than that, thicker than that, more soaring than that. Your life is doing what God made you good at. If even part of what God made you good at is used in your job, hooray, but the odds are that what you are good at spills over past your job and into your life. And no matter how crappy part of your life is, the other part, the part where you do what you love, can be glorious.

I've been there too, trapped in a job that I hated, which was literally giving me ulcers. Fortunately for me, at the same time, the rest of my life was being filled up with things that I loved-- ski patrol training, learning to SCUBA dive, and falling in love with my future husband. (And yes, I believe that God was looking out for me through all of that.)

During one of my ask-the-rabbi sessions with the fourth grade, one girl asked me, "“I don't know what God made me good at. How can I find out?"” My advice to her is my advice to you if you don't know. First, ask your parents. They know you best, though they are not always honest. They sometimes will tell you with all the love in their hearts, "“Honey, God made you good at being a sports agent."” If they tell you that, then go ask your friends. They don't know you as well as your family, but they're more honest. If family and friends do not tell you clearly what they think God made you good at, then ask yourself this question: "When am I most happy?"” The times you are most happy are the times you are doing what you love and what you love is always what God made you good at.

So, as I've already said, I enjoy my job. But here's the "million-dollar" question: If I won the lottery, would I still go to work at the same job every day? In all honesty, probably not. I like the challenges though-- I like trouble-shooting, finding a root cause, analyzing data, evaluating potential solutions, and proving that everything works. (However, I'm not such a big fan of the more difficult challenges of getting out of bed early in the morning and arriving at work by 8am. Oh, and I loathe reviewing patents.) And unfortunately, it's just not the type of job that you can do as a part-time volunteer. It's more of a 40-hour-work-week-salaried-position thing. So I'm not sure what I would do.

What about you? What would you do if you won the lottery and never needed to worry about another paycheck?

Now, my other main love (after my husband & family & friends) is skiing, and not just skiing (although that, in itself, would be enough to qualify as an obsession) but ski patrolling too. I've already described some of the things that I love about skiing in a previous post, so I'll just add a couple more things that I love about ski patrolling:

  • Patrolling requires many of the same skills that I use in my particular field of engineering-- It provides lots of opportunities for problem-solving, risk analysis, and decision-making, and it requires a good understanding of how the human body is supposed to work and what can go wrong. There are lots of questions that must be answered in just a few minutes time: What is the main problem/injury? What is the worst-case scenario? How can we safely get an injured person into the toboggan? Transferred to a bed in the aid room? Out of the aid room and into a car? (Oh, and as a bonus, we also get to make splints out of bubble-wrap, cardboard, and duct tape, which are 3 items on the Top 10 list of favorite engineering materials.)

But there are also things that I enjoy about patrolling specifically because it's different from my day job:

  • For one thing, it's very physical-- Skiing with a loaded toboggan is tough enough, but there's also a lot of dragging (the toboggan) and lifting (injured people) and carrying (first aid packs & signs & power drills & gear) involved. It's definitely the opposite of a desk job!

  • Patrolling also involves a lot more interpersonal skills than engineering does. (Insert engineering joke here. The one about the boy and the frog princess would work in a pinch.) I am a pretty introverted person by nature, but I am forced to quickly overcome that when I'm working with someone who is injured. And this may sound crazy, but it seems like we usually see the best side of people when they're injured and vulnerable. Last year I met a 13 year old who had severely dislocated his finger at the top of the hill, and yet he managed to walk all the way down on his own, cradling his hand with his opposite arm. He was obviously in a lot of pain, but he was a really, really brave and patient. If I had met him under "better" conditions, I might have only seen him as a crazy little hoodlum, but instead I got to see him as a trooper.

  • There's also a tremendous amount of teamwork and camaraderie within the patrol. We're all volunteers, so everyone is there because they love patrolling, not because of a paycheck. We spend a lot of time training together and working together and skiing together, and that provides a very powerful sense of community, which I believe is a critical part of God's plan for our lives.

So there's two of things that I love and that I'm good at-- Engineering and Skiing. Are there others? Maybe, probably, hopefully. I love spending time with my husband and hanging out with my friends. I love reading and learning new things. And when I pause and consider that everyone on Earth has different skills and different passions, it makes me wonder what could be accomplished if more people started applying those skills to the things that they were passionate about. There's a lot of hope rolled up into that thought. How could we change our cities? How could we change our country? How could we change our world?

Instead of ending with my own rambling, I'd rather leave you with Rabbi Gellman's (far more eloquent) conclusion...

This is what it means to be made "“in the image of God,"” (Hebrew: b'tzelem elohim.) Obviously being made in the image of God does not mean that we have a big toe just like God has a big toe. It does not mean that we are all powerful or all knowing or all good because God is all powerful, all knowing and all good. So what does it mean? The Hebrew word tzelem comes from the root word "“tzel"” which means "“shadow"” and so, we are all God's shadows. But because God has infinite attributes it stands to reason that God has infinite shadows and this means that each of us shadows a different part of God... ...Being God's shadows perfectly explains to me how we are all different and how we are all the same. God's shadow falls across our wounded world through an infinity of differently blessed lives; each shadow bearing equally the holiness of the Creator, but each shadow bearing a unique shape meant to be discovered and used to find happiness, fix the world and please God.

God gives each of us unique blessings and thus unique destinies. That is what it means to say we are all made in the image of God or to say that we all stood at Sinai. And we are all standing at Sinai right here and right now. God is looking at you, just you, to ask you, "“Did you discover what I made you good at? Are you working at what you love? And are you helping those who have not yet discovered the shape of their spiritual shadow to do what I made them good at doing?"

...God is actually speaking to you, just you, to teach you the secrets of life. God is speaking to you, just you, to lead you to the place of green pastures and still waters where you need not be afraid. God is speaking to you, just you, to teach you how every day your blessings exceed your burdens. God is speaking to you, just you, to tell you that life is too short not to do what you love...

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