I’m in the midst of leaving a job, perhaps moving cities, and shifting my career path rather drastically. I have spent the last seven years, ten if you count seminary, as a community organizer. I have been obedient to my understanding of my call to
Learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
That’s from Isaiah 1:17, God telling Israel how to live. It’s been my guiding verse since college now (twelve years!). I understood it to mean I should seek out corruption and oppression, identify with the abused and marginalized. My life has been focused on changing institutions, communities, hearts and minds from ignorance, complacency, and discrimination towards equality, compassion and justice.
No big dreams. No big deal. Just, you know, doing my little part to build a better world.
The problem is that in twelve years I have burnt out twice. I have twisted myself into ridiculous contortions trying to be effective and easy going, cooperative but independent, responsive and a self starter, open to critique and have a thick skin. I have toned down my passion and been more open or forthright. I have been too eager, too reticent, too early, late too often, both too flaky AND too disciplined. It all depends upon whom you ask.
All of this work to better myself and become the best I can be has taught me one absolutely vital and essential truth.
People Pleasing Pleases No One.
I cannot be all things to all people. Paul was wrong on that one. But I can be my best self, and I have to learn to live with the fact some people are going to respond unpleasantly to my honest, direct, passionate, driven, creative, fast, enthusiastic reality. I can tone it down for periods of time (there is appropriate for any given situation of course) but I will not compromise my being, my self, or my sense of integrity to make others comfortable or happy.
And so I’m transitioning, not so much about my specific work situation but more so my attitude about how I participate in this world. How can I keep doing my little bit to seek justice, but no longer think I have to make every one around me happy while I do it? Mostly, by taking time to remember what matters the most to me.
Do Good. Seek Justice. I will be what is right. I will do what is right. I will not worry so much about the outcomes or whether people agree. I will simply try. And I will remember that after God’s big and impossible instructions to Israel comes a promise of salvation.
“Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, NRSV).