There’s a book by Stephen Covey called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The book is a best-seller, and for good reason. It talks about how to set schedules, manage priorities, be successful in the business world, and balance your life so that you have the time to do the things that are important to you. But with all due respect to Mr. Covey, there are some tips that he didn’t mention that have proven pretty helpful to me. Flash back to June 1995. For the past twenty years, I’d been a full-time student. Elementary school led to junior high, high school led to college, and college led to graduate school. After graduate school, there was no more school left. So I started applying for a job.
After seven months of nonstop rejections, insults, and despondency, one week in January I got a phone call. I spoke to the recruiter on a Wednesday and interviewed on a Thursday. I was to start work on Monday, at 8 a.m. sharp.
After the excitement of it all wore off, I started to think. The extent of my work experience up to that point had been a few part-time college jobs. I’d never really had to deal with a full-time job. Do they wear suits? Whom will I eat lunch with? How do I ask for office supplies? What if my boss hates me?
I had a lot of questions. Not the least of these was, "What do I do?"
In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey sees a billboard that reads, "Ask Dad. He Knows." I saw this billboard flash in my head, so I went over to Dad. I asked him to give me some advice on how to make it in the business world. Now, Dad’s never been the CEO of a corporation. He made a decent salary, but nothing spectacular. But one thing I noticed was that Dad enjoyed his job. And while our family wasn’t the wealthiest family in the world, I noticed that Dad and Mom did manage to live in a pretty nice house, provide pretty good food and decent clothes for their kids, and send their three kids off to college. I know they worked hard, but we always had time to go on family vacations, do church work, and spend time together.
So I wanted to know "his secret." How was it that he’d managed to stay in his company for thirty years, and all the while remain pretty happy?
He started to tell me, and I stopped him. "Could you write it down for me?"
He agreed and, a few hours later, knocked at my door. He handed me a slip of paper with a list of six things written on it.
1) Most Important—Get along with everybody. You need all the friends you can get. One enemy would be too many. Be appreciative and congenial.
My first few months on the job, it amazed me to see the amount of office politics that went on. People chose sides and made allies and enemies. It wasn’t uncommon at all to hear people bad-mouth someone behind his back, and then be as friendly as ever when they came face to face with that person.
There was a time in my wide-eyed, idealistic phase when I thought that everyone in our company was committed solely to the success of the company. I talked about the subject with a colleague, and he told me something interesting. "Next time you’re in a meeting," he said, "listen carefully to what each person says and ask yourself, ‘Why is that person saying that? What’s in it for them?’"
So I did this, and I came to a pretty startling conclusion: People are generally selfish.
I once heard someone say, "Hatred isn’t the opposite of love. Selfishness is the opposite of love."
In Galatians 5:20, Paul lists "selfish ambition" as one of the "acts of the sinful nature," along with quite a few other unpleasant things. At first, "selfish ambition" might not seem to fit in this list. Few will deny that all the other sins listed are destructive. But these days, "selfish ambition" is often looked upon favorably, especially in the business world.
So what can you do? How in the world do you get along with everybody when everyone’s in it for himself, when people wouldn’t think twice about taking advantage of you for their own gain? Paul gives some pretty good advice:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. (Phil 2:3-6)
Now these are pretty heavy words, considering what Paul was going through when he wrote them. Just a chapter before, Paul explained his situation. While he was locked in prison, some preachers came to the Philippian church. In Paul’s absence, they spoke disparagingly of him in front of the very church that he loved deeply. They sought to fill the vacuum that Paul left, to jockey for position, and to obtain some glory for themselves.
Now if you were Paul, what would you do? There are a bunch of evangelists out there who are in competition with you. They take advantage of your situation to boost their own egos and better their political position. And on top of that, because they’re so jealous of you, they say anything they can to make your suffering even worse.
Paul chose to continue to glorify God, by not giving way to Satan and by recognizing Satan’s attempts to break his spirit. So over four chapters, Paul mentions the words "joy" and "rejoice" over and over again. Even though Paul had every right to condemn these men, he chose to look the other way and, furthermore, to rejoice at the work they were doing.
In this simple statement, Paul showed to all the Philippians—and the rest of us as well—what his attitude was in his work. He didn’t feel he had to defend himself or coddle his ego. And so his silence spoke louder than anything he could have said.
Ambition: Good or Bad?
If Paul were to tell these preachers what they should have been told, he probably would have said something along the lines of what James wrote:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (Jas 3:13-16)
Notice how both Paul and James use the term "selfish ambition," not just "ambition." There’s an important distinction. Ambition by itself is not a bad thing. It’s one of the things that makes you do the very best work you can, and it pushes you to achieve to the fullest of your potential.
The difference is in motives. Is your ultimate goal your own fame and fortune? Are you motivated by pride or ego, or by jealousy of what others have? Or is your ultimate goal to make an honest day’s wages for an honest day’s work? Is your ultimate goal to glorify yourself or to glorify God?
These are important questions, and you need to be brutally honest with yourself in answering them. Proverbs 16:2 says, "All a man’s ways seems innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord."
The Trap of Envy
Selfish ambition and envy usually go together. Ecclesiastes 4:4 says, "And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor."
It’s so easy to be caught in this trap. Our society breeds it. If you make $40,000 a year, I want to make $60,000 a year. If you have a Toyota, I want a Lexus. If you get promoted to District Manager, I want to be promoted to Division Manager. If your kid goes to MIT, I want my kid to go to MIT on a full scholarship. It’s an easy trap to fall into, because it seems that everyone does it. But it’s a trap that leads to destruction. Remember Proverbs 14:30: "A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones."
How do we fight it? Let your ambition be motivated by something other than competition, greed, or self-glory. So what should your ambition be?
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thess 4:11-12)
In the world out there, people who know how to manipulate situations and people, with no concern for the welfare of others, usually do very well for themselves at first. They get what they want immediately. But ask anyone who’s worked many years in a company, and they’ll tell you that while such people tend to rise like a rocket, they tend to fall like a shooting star. They’ll tell you that the people who lasted in the company were those who gained the respect and admiration of others around them by displaying character and integrity.
Happily, if you are a Christian and strive for righteousness, character and integrity come as part of the package.
The Answer: Love & Humility
So to sum up, how do you get along with everyone?
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Pet 3:8-9)
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Gal 6:9-10)
There’s a theme throughout all the verses we’ve read. Learn to show Christian love and humility toward others. Despite what anyone else does around you, do good to others. Shine the light of Christ wherever you are. Show the fruit of the spirit in your everyday life, not just on Saturdays when you go to church. And seek the glory of God in everything you do.
All Scripture quotations in this article are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (North American Edition), copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
"In the Workforce" is a recurring column dedicated to survival tips and advice on how to shine the light as a Christian at work. If you have some advice or anecdotes from your own work experience that you feel may be edifying to the fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.