By Ted Jeon
I first came to New York City nearly 10 years ago, excited to begin my new career as a financial analyst on Wall Street. Having just graduated from college, I came to New York with grand visions for my work – to participate in industry-shaping transactions, to work with leading global companies, and to make my mark on the world.
However, my initial enthusiasm was quickly broken by the daily demands of being a junior-level professional. I soon found myself working 18-hour days, seven days a week, with little time or energy for exercise, friendships, or personal reflection – let alone church or a community group. When I came home and crawled into bed each night, my only prayer was: “Lord, I only have 4 hours to sleep tonight. Please make it feel like 8 hours.” My roommates would later tell me it felt like a dark cloud had entered whenever I came home. Obsessively checking email, backing out of social commitments, hanging on every word of approval from my superiors – there must be dignity in work, and this was not it.
I’ve come to see that one of the realities of working in New York is that the prevailing culture expects and often requires the vast majority of our waking hours to be spent working. Even when we’re not actually at work, we are expected to be on-call and available to work at a moment’s notice. The hustle and bustle of the city constantly tells us that: activity equals productivity, busy-ness equals importance, and career equals identity. In my case, the day-to-day grind had slowly but surely drifted my internal compass until I believed it all.
At this point, I wish I could say that reconciling my career with my faith simply required a flash of divine inspiration. Instead, it has been a slow and painfully deliberate process of thinking through my root motives and the true desires of my heart. For me, the first key step was to re-establish the regular spiritual disciplines that can be boring and quite ordinary at times, but also life-giving. The rhythms of Sunday worship, the weekly fellowship of community group, the daily routine of morning devotionals: these represented small but crucial boundaries in my life – a safe harbor of times intentionally set aside during my week that reflected a conscious choice that life is not comprised of “work” and “everything else.”
Second, although work had taken over my life in many respects, ironically, my conception of work had actually become too small. Work is not a curse or a necessary evil, nor is it solely a means to provide for our financial needs. God created work before the Fall, for us to steward the world and His creation, all of which was good. I had forgotten that work is in and of itself good – regardless of results, output, or approval. God is glorified when bankers allocate capital regardless of compensation, when lawyers pursue justice regardless of headlines, when teachers and parents raise up the next generation regardless of recognition, when artists create beauty regardless of ratings or reviews. We are called to work, for the work itself.
To be clear, career is still important to me, and it should be. I still often work long hours, and it is a daily tension to not get caught up in titles, compensation, and resume-building. But now, I am reminded work is not the ultimate – it does not hold dominion over my identity.
And yet, work is also much greater than I had initially thought. Work itself has inherent value – it can be an act of worship. For me, it is empowering and humbling to now see the workplace as God’s invitation to participate in His creation and redemption of the world.