In today’s world, it can sometimes feel like a risk to acknowledge your faith in the secular workplace. With over 220 religions officially recognized in the U.S. and a national tradition of religious freedom, faith sometimes serves to divide rather than unite.
However, there are ways to live out your faith at work that don’t alienate others, and instead can help you be a better coworker, teammate, and even mentor.
Career vs. Calling
When we talk about faith and profession, we need to distinguish between a career and a calling. A career has to do with your employment — it’s what helps you put food on the table, support yourself and your family, and lend structure to your daily routine.
A calling is something much deeper. For those with strong connections to their faith, calling and career often intertwine; they can teach religion in Catholic schools, lead workshops at spiritual retreat centers, or work in their local place of worship. However, a calling does not necessarily have to do with a career.
In the Catholic tradition, a vocational calling is the ways in which we serve God. Your vocational calling can be to a religious order, to lay ministry, to the institution of marriage, or to the priesthood. Vocation is based on your unique spiritual and personal gifts and is usually a lifetime commitment. A vocational calling may guide you toward a certain career, but it typically transcends a job.
On the topic of vocation, Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles laici, “The fundamental objective of the formation of the lay faithful is an ever-clearer discovery of one’s vocation and the ever-greater willingness to live it so as to fulfill one’s mission.” In other words, vocation is what drives us forward — it lends meaning to our lives, gives us a purpose, and guides our actions as we move through the world.
Whether you work in a religious or secular profession, there are ways to intertwine your vocation and career that can enhance your professional experience and improve the lives of those around you.
The Role of Faith in Career Success
Before you consider how your faith can help you achieve success in the workplace, you must first define what success means to you.
For some, it can be as simple as feeling comfortable in your own skin. “I would define success as being happy with who I am and sharing that happiness with others,” says John Biewer, a candidate for the Master of Theological Studies degree from the Franciscan School of Theology.
Linda Lysakowski, an author, speaker, and Advanced Certified Fundraising Executive for nonprofits, feels that “success is being at peace with God that you have done your best, and that you preach with your lives and your words.”
When determining your own definition of success, ask yourself the following questions:
- How do I measure success?
- What inspires me to be successful?
- What is my ideal picture of success?
- Who are my heroes or role models?
- What values do I hold that make me feel successful?
Now: does your career align with your definition of success? If you have a strong connection and commitment to your faith, consider whether your current profession enables you to live out your faith to the fullest, every day. If it doesn’t, it may be time to consider another profession.
If you’re questioning how to live out your faith in your secular workplace, it helps to seek out others who work in similar jobs and share your faith. They may tell you that they take time out of their day to pray or meditate, pray privately for their coworkers, be the first to sign up for volunteer days, organize food or clothing drives, or simply practice active compassion and kindness whenever they can. These individuals may feel successful by letting faith guide their everyday choices and actions.
If you find yourself struggling to connect your faith to your career, consider an academic opportunity that may open new professional doors for you. Though you may not wish to enter a religious occupation, a master’s degree program or continuing education opportunity can help you identify more meaningful and tangible ways to live out your calling. Program faculty and instructors can also speak to their own and others’ experiences, which may help you define your path forward.
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Challenges of Living Out Your Faith in the Secular Workplace
With the vast spectrum of religious and cultural diversity in the U.S., it’s rare that we encounter spaces in which all parties can agree on faith (outside of worship). This is why many companies establish policies that limit religious expression or discussion in the workplace, as it can lead to disagreements, misunderstandings, or prejudice.
As a result, many people of faith feel the need to compartmentalize that part of their lives. Expressing our faith can sometimes make us feel like outsiders, since it may change people’s opinion of us. However, keeping your faith a secret from your coworkers can feel restrictive, especially if it is a significant part of your life.
“I don’t like to compartmentalize my life,” says John Biewer. “I believe in having a balance, but I really like that many aspects of my life overlap in a myriad of ways.”
If you work in an industry or workplace that blurs the line between what you believe to be “right” and “wrong” according to your faith, it can have a detrimental effect on your well-being. Don’t brush this feeling aside. Think of it this way: Some workplaces are literally toxic, such as those that deal with chemicals, pathogens, or other health hazards. The people who work in these environments understand the risk to their health and take appropriate safety precautions, but prolonged exposure to these elements can cause lasting physical damage. Being surrounded by constant challenges to your faith can harm you in a similar way, even if the effects aren’t as obvious.
The object, then, is to pursue career opportunities that align with your spiritual needs. Consider your unique skills and find a profession that will enable you to exercise your practical and spiritual gifts.
If changing jobs is not feasible for you, seek counsel from a trusted friend or spiritual advisor. You may also want to find a like-minded support group, become more involved in your church, volunteer your time, or pursue new learning opportunities that will strengthen your relationship with your faith.
How to Incorporate Faith Into Your Career
If you work in a secular environment or profession, there are plenty of ways to live out your faith beyond religious expression.
1. Set a good example for others. Modeling kindness, compassion, and empathy are visible ways of putting faith into action. If you are in a managerial or leadership position, it is especially important to set the standard for workplace behavior and the treatment of others. Let your faith shine through in your organization’s core values.
2. Spread and seek joy. There’s a lot to be worried about in the world. As you practice gratitude for your blessings, help others to see the joy and goodness in their lives. Likewise, surround yourself with people who value kindness and honesty and treat others well.
3. Help others see their value. Everyone has inherent value, but some people have a harder time finding theirs than others. If a coworker is struggling with difficult feedback or a challenging project and blames themselves, help them see how their unique strengths got them where they are, and how those strengths can help them find a solution.
4. Practice acts of service. You don’t need to work in a service profession to be of service to others. You can practice acts of service by offering your help, checking in on people who are struggling, donating your time and skills to a worthy cause, establishing a food or clothing drive at your workplace, or simply being a good listener.
5. Make time for your faith. Daily life can be hectic — some days, we barely have time to feed ourselves! Just like a fitness routine, maintaining a strong relationship with your faith takes dedication. Set aside time during your workday to take a walk or find a quiet place to pray, meditate, read some favorite passages, or talk to God. If it helps, don’t view your faith as “one more thing” you need to squeeze into your schedule; rather, let it infuse every moment in the form of your patience, tolerance, and grace.
6. Know your faith inside and out. As much as people try to avoid them in the secular workplace, sometimes conversations about faith can crop up. Respectful conversations between people of differing values can be quite productive and insightful — but you may be challenged by someone who feels uncomfortable with your faith.
“I try to accept all people, much as St Francis did,” says Linda Lysakowski. “In both my work [and] volunteer work, I face people with differing views and I constantly remind myself of how Francis stepped into the heat of the battle [with Sultan Malek al-Kamil of Egypt] with only his faith to protect him. And, how, even though neither he nor the Sultan convinced the other that their religion was the right one, they parted as friends and respected each other.”
Learning as much as you can about your faith can help you navigate encounters like these with patience and understanding. If your commitment to and knowledge of your faith is strong, you will not be easily discouraged by someone who does not agree. When you navigate challenging conversations with poise, you are a positive representative of your faith.
7. Stay true to yourself. Don’t change yourself to fit in at work. Remember that we are not what we do, but who we are. Live truthfully and authentically — and accept others in their own truth — and your faith will shine through in your actions.
“I have for a while really tried to live Pope Francis’ ‘Culture of Encounter’ which I think is part of the Franciscan Way of meeting people where they are,” says John Biewer. “I try to incorporate that into all aspects of my life.”
Whatever your profession, there may be moments in your career that rattle your faith. Acknowledge that you will not always have the answer or know the best way forward. This is where a mentor and/or a like-minded group can offer their support, help you see situations in a different light, respond to your ideas, or help you make decisions informed by your values.
Faith as a Framework for Career Success
Jobs come and go, but your faith is a lifelong presence. You may hold a wide range of professions over your career, all of which can likely benefit from a strong faith foundation. If your values are important to you, know that you should not have to compromise your faith for your job.
If you’re looking for a way to connect your faith to a meaningful career, explore opportunities in a program like the online Master of Theological Studies – Franciscan Theology at the University of San Diego. Designed for those seeking meaning in their professional or personal life, this unique program welcomes anyone who wishes to gain a deeper understanding of faith-based service.
Reach out to a USD enrollment advisor today for more information, or to speak with an alumni or faculty member who may have had a similar experience to yours. When you’re ready, we’re here to help.