Detested work. Is it a cross or a challenge?
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“Be prepared for the fact that 80% of your work is a boring onerous routine”, in my student years, I heard such a warning from my father. When I started working, I discovered that a lot of my friends and acquaintances go to an office as if it was penal servitude. “Not mine, not what is needed, not interesting, but could you do, you have to work!”

From the point of view of a Christian, do you have to come to terms with a detested work due to the fact that Lord put you here? Or to search for something “mine” desperately? How not to get discouraged by your “failure to fulfill yourself"?  Problems associated with a detested work we discuss with Archpriest Maxim Pervozvansky, editor-in-chief of magazine “Heir”, graduate of the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, who worked at the Research Institute of Instrument Engineering before being ordained.

Fighting with thoughts is not for monks only

Father Maxim, what questions about their work do people bring to you as a pastor?

The questions are very different, as a rule, they depend on how an individual perceives their work. I believe there are two main positive types of such perception: there are people, and they are probably the happiest people, although they also have their own problems and questions, who treat their work as a service, and there are others who treat it as a calling.


Detested work. Is it a cross or a challenge?

What is the fundamental difference?

Service is when you can even fail to perceive your work as a loved one, but you see the great purpose thereof, you see why you do it, and it inspires you. It resembles erection of our great construction projects of the 20th century: an individual could very much dislike lying “under an old cart” with workers, developing virgin land, but the fact that “in four years, there will be a garden city here” inspired them very much. It means, it is not so important what you do, the main thing is ultimately for what.

There is a borderline option: when an individual works to provide for the family. It is also service by serving your loved ones, whose well-being to a certain extent depends on you and your diligence.

What about vocation?

A vocation, a "calling" means that an individual to a large extent fulfills themselves in their work, every day is like a festival for them, they are keen on the process itself.

These are the alternatives of a positive attitude. And it happens that an individual really dislikes their work, they are really “sick” from the mere thought that they have to go there. But for some reason, they drag this “yoke” on themselves... But most people are somewhere between these models of attitude.

Nevertheless, dissatisfaction is inherent in this majority to some degree. Why?

As far as my experience tells me, everything is ultimately determined not by the work itself, but rather by the attitude that we develop towards it. In the same way, ultimately, it is not wife’s beauty or even the qualities of her nature that determines whether the husband loves her or not, but rather his attitude towards marriage, his attitude towards his wife.

Sure, each case should be approached individually, but more often, if you are dissatisfied with your position, you need to inject positive aspects exactly into your own attitude to work in a pointwise and non-revolutionary manner.

Sounds like some kind of self-programming or self-deception...

On the contrary! Why should an individual accept their negative thoughts about work as the ultimate truth?

For some reason, a lot of people believe that the technique of inner work, spiritual work described by the holy fathers (among later ones, for example, Nikodim Svyatogorets in book “Invisible Warfare”), control of one’s ideas, thoughts and feelings is only for monks. In fact, any individual must be very attentive to their inner world, their thoughts and feelings, ideas.

Often, negative attitude towards your boss is eventually transferred to work as a whole, and from work to your whole life, some global self-pity emerges. Say, you go from work and think: “What kind of nonsense am I doing?”, or an omnipresent one: “How tired I am, poor! “ If you relish this thought, allow yourself to develop it, then the next day you will not be able to go to work at all. And if it continues for months and years, then very quickly you turn into an absolutely weak-willed being incapable of working.

If you force these thoughts away with the Jesus Prayer “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!" if you didn’t allow yourself to “think” them, didn’t allow them to destroy yourself, but on the contrary focused your attention on what was positive that in your life today, then a lot would change.

Even if you simply lack strength to pray, you should at least try to switch your thoughts to something else, do not let this “steam roller” run over your soul. A rare idea needs to be faced as it is, you can hide in a trench, let it fly over your head, do not pay attention to it.

Dreams of a vocation

There is the concept of “vocation”. Everyone is looking for an occupation that would be pleasant for them to do, and many suffer being unable to find it. They perceive their current situation as temporary hardships. It turns out that we should live on like that, driving away obsessive thoughts, endure until you find out what is “yours"?

Here I see two fundamental mistakes. First, all our misfortunes, including those at work, occur due to the fact that we want something more all the time, and more often than not we absolutely do not correspond to what is more: professionally, intellectually. Well, Lord does not call you, it is not yours!..

Second, modern people, particularly Orthodox Christians, make a very common mistake. They regard their current work as a necessary, unavoidable evil.

Again, the individual begins to dream of something more...

Yes. “So, someday I will become a priest / fly into space” and, as a rule, they do nothing for this. I understood this very clearly by the example of an acquaintance of mine. He graduated from an institute, a secular one, and was going to become a priest. His confessor did not bless him to go to the army, so he went to graduate school, which gave him a draft determent. A fine option, why not graduate from graduate school if there is such an opportunity? But my acquaintance treated studying there as some kind of terrible, difficult, unnecessary period of his life! He said two years would pass now, this period would end for me and I would finally be able to get down to business.

This is a fundamentally wrong attitude! You don't enjoy your occupation, but there is no way to leave yet whether due to organizational or financial reasons, you should try to learn as much as possible at any job. Use your best efforts to make a career or study, not to move up the career ladder, but simply to make the most of the circumstances where God has set you for now. You have to do what you have to do now. Learn new things, achieve excellence in what you do!

Can you give an example?

I want to boast of my own wife, to give her an example in this regard. For the first 15 years of life together, we were constantly moving, we did not have our own home. And didn’t stay at one place for more than three years. But every time, even if we moved for a year, she arranged everything as if we would live here forever! In my opinion, it is very correct.

It is not known whether you will ever have your “own” job where you would be happy, would fulfill yourself 100%. You must invest yourself fully in what Lord is giving you now. Treat what Lord gives you today as your main calling.

There are people who, having reached faith, strive to change their entire life radically, particularly their professional life. Someone has a desire to leave the “mundane” job, someone even wants to become a priest. How do you like it?

This state of a neophyte, when an individual begins to evaluate everything in a new way, sharply, uncompromisingly, is not at all bad. You cannot become a Christian quietly, changing, imperceptibly. Some kind of destruction is always required. Even if you were baptized as a child, serious deep faith requires a reassessment of your whole life, rethinking of your own path, rejection of old habits, maybe even some acquaintances. It's another thing when an individual gets stuck in the neophyte state...

Sure, it is allowed to change your life substantially, but it is better when an individual goes for it, having already established themselves in their faith. In my opinion, almost any work can be sanctified, revalued, rethought in a Christian way. I had an acquaintance who, having come to faith, left physics for a few years... and then returned. He realized that he could still do physics, but with a new attitude to life and to the same work.

There’s no harm in trying?

Father Maxim, you are a physicist by your first specialty, you worked at a research institute. Was it your calling? Was it difficult to give it up for the priesthood?

It was a loved job. By the way, I also had a working specialty, and I can’t say that I’ve ever been discouraged at work. I think I have been granted a certain feature, which is definitely not my merit: I know how to treat with joy what I succeed in. It is true. I enjoyed doing physics and made quite a big success in this area. When faced with the need to leave this profession, I absolutely did not regret it and did not remember with sorrow.

I remember very well the situation when I was passing some stage of the preliminary presentation of the thesis and knew that the next day I would submit a letter of resignation, that I would not go to the thesis viva. And I was still passing the preliminary presentation! Because there is still one day, but I’m here. And that gave me a lot. I was presenting my work, listening to remarks, participated in the discussion...

I believe it very important to be able to live for today.

Does it mean that you don’t have to search, you don’t have to try? Is it how humility looks like?

Exactly this I discussed recently with a woman. She is already at that age when, it seems, just wait a little bit more and you will not get married, over forty. And she says: “I open the Gospel and read: “Knock and it will be opened for you, ask and it will be given to you”. And on the other hand they tell me: “Get humble!” How should I do, I do not understand? Should I hope, because I really want to get married, I want children. Or should I have to come to terms with the fact that it will never happen”. I answered: “Why is it necessary to pose the question like this? You should not come to terms with the fact that it will never happen, accept that it is not happening now. But keep your hope”.

It is a fact that you need to come to terms with your current job. And to get everything you can from it: be it money so money, be it experience so experience But it does not mean that you have to give up, you can stay where you are, on the detested work, while taking some steps to find a beloved one.

There’s no harm in trying? But should be done, say, if an individual tries once, tries two, tries three times, and there is no success. Would not it mean that all attempts must be abandoned?

In general, it is exactly how the will of God should be looked for, by trying. It is clear that not just by trying, but rather trying with prayer. And if something fails to succeed, it can be considered an answer. Although the form itself, the way how “it fails to succeed”, has its own nuances. Maybe it is not just answer “Don't do it”, maybe it is a test that requires you to show perseverance, will, consistency.

It is not easy to understand. Nobody here can take the place of that individual to feel it. At the same time, they can consult with their confessor, analyze the situation together, ask them to pray in order to make the right decision.

But in general, “twitching” is quite acceptable: “Lord, can I try?” And you try! You posted a CV. Two months have passed, not a single call. It does not mean that you need to give up on that: “Oh, no success!” It means that you need to change something, ask for transfer to another place, write your CV in a different way, and so on.

Have you personally experienced failures?

Of course! In my time, even before becoming a physicist, I obtained a working specialty “lathe operator”. I was incredibly interested. They put me at the drilling machine: you drill holes in a preformed block, chips appear, and you need to remove chamfer from the preformed block using a drill of a larger diameter so that the chips fly off. And I made over 1,000 pieces per shift. It is terrible! Like a robot, all day: snap, remove, snap, remove, throw in the basket. One chamfer cost 0.8 kopecks, if you make 10 pieces, you earn 8 kopecks. So I stood there for two weeks and asked for something else. And, you know, I was entrusted with something more serious! However, when I broke an incisor for the third time, I was returned back to chamfer. Later, I worked in another specialty. But if I didn’t try it, I would be standing and working chamfer till now and wouldn’t have learned anything new.

So I think we need to try, to improve ourselves! No one has a particular desire to slow you down.

Even working on a conveyor?

Even the most monotonous work has its advantages. For example, now I understand that if at that time, while a lathe operator, I knew how to pray, those my chamfer would be like a rosary. A very monastic occupation!

Is the question of prestigiousness of a job, prestigiousness of a company where work worthy of attention?

The question of prestige in society is a very subtle one. It is formed in a specific way. Name “manager” seems to be so prestigious, but there is nothing special behind it, just office work. And salaries are also very different. There are four professions, representatives of which are the happiest in work according to statistics, because for them it is directly related to servicing. They are doctors, teachers, military and priests. None of these professions, as you might guess, can be called prestigious in a modern sense. So draw your conclusions...

Hobby

Is a situation when an individual comes to terms with an uninteresting job and compensates by looking for something interesting outside of work, is it normal?

Absolutely. It is no coincidence that the 20th century, with its mass production and a cog man standing on an assembly line, gave birth to such a thing as hobby. For example, if you do something exclusively in your head, then it is very useful to do something with your hands! It's spring now, you can make birdhouses.

Recently, I made a bookcase for myself. Now I’m putting a door on. It was extremely important for me. I had a terrible depression: I don’t want anything, I can’t see anyone, I can’t pray. I went to a construction market and saw a circular saw there, which cost only two thousand. As a result, I spent “terrible” money and bought myself as many as three electrical appliances: a saw, jigsaw and jointer (electric bench plane). It’s been my dream for a long time! For a whole week I planed these boards, my wife and I were discussing, inventing creatively how and what to do, and it strengthened our relationship even more. Excellent! As a result, I came to my senses.

So, if your purely mental work gives you no opportunity to express some of your abilities, there remains a desire to do something with your hands, do something after work that satisfies this need?

Quite right! Or, inversely. If you do not have enough food for the mind, for imagination, external expression of creativity at work, you can find something outside of work that would compensate for this deficiency. By the way, this occupation can become something like a second job, this way publication of “Heir” magazine turned into my second job, and at first I perceived it as a hobby.

Trying to take a second job is also an option. Getting a second higher education, mastering a new profession is another one.

After all, now we have a clear division: job vs rest. We must try to make up for this disruption, fragmentation of life, somehow: if you miss something, study, search.

Is the concept of “self-fulfillment” also a product of the last twenty years?

No, it was there before, the same as the very desire for self-fulfillment. Another thing is that there was no mention of a “compulsory career”. What is that? Speaking in the Gospel language, it is an attempt to fulfill completely those talents that were given to you, not to bury them. It is a normal thing. The question is, why are you doing this?

What if it is for one’s own sake?..

Exactly this one is wrong. There is a fundamental point: when you do something for yourself only, most likely, you would destroy the very soul that you want to save.

But even the very word “self-fulfillment” presupposes self-improvement. It means, you are improving yourself, for your own sake, to become better.

Why get better? Why be better? There cannot be an end in itself here. This is an intermediate goal. Statement “I want to be smart”, “I want to be rich” implies the question: for what? Why do you want to be a boss? Why do you want to grasp this or that issue?

Similarly, you can ask the question: why, for what do you want to become a saint? Why do you need spiritual improvement?

Yes, right, why? Let’s answer this question. Holiness is not a goal, it is a state. Why do you want to be kind, merciful? In order to get closer to God. I want to love, to live for the sake of people, for the sake of Christ. In this alternative, you have no need of money, experience, and self-fulfillment.

Is it really necessary to formulate a goal every time?

It is advisable. Most often, we understand it intuitively. But at some stage, a goal still needs to be formulated, although for a Christian, “self-fulfillment for its own sake” should not be a goal.

Today, we live in an era when it has become fashionable to use words like “project”. "Life as a project”. But we do not just mechanically shape our life like a construction toy. An individual and their life are not a mechanism, but an organism that develops. And when an individual sets goals for themselves rigidly and goes hard towards them, no matter what, it often gives bad results.

Christ’s words “you did not choose Me, but I chose you” refer not only to apostleship, in my opinion. They refer human activities as a whole. You should just try to understand this will of God about yourself, and learn to see it not only in joyful moments of your work biography.