My new beginnings started with old ones that didn’t work. The kind of new I needed would not be something I could do for myself. It wasn’t even something I could recognize and pursue. For me a new beginning required new eyes to see and new thoughts to process. Basically, it called for all things new.
Working with the wrong definitions.
I entered the corporate world in my mid 20’s, young and hungry for achievement. I wanted an impressive resume. The corporate world looked important. What I desired most revealed something significant, beyond the typical ambitions of a recent college graduate in the 90’s. Namely, that what I did defined me.
For the next 15+ years I pursued a plethora of positions in a variety of companies. Excellence was always a goal, no matter the position. To overachieve. To surpass expectations as much as possible. I developed a work ethic that slowly morphed into workaholism. Long hours, at times required, sometimes self-imposed, became an important signifier. A busy life felt like a full life. And a full life looked like an important one.
Along the way I married, and I moved countries twice. Through the gift of immigration, my husband and I relocated to Canada as our new permanent home. By then in my late 30’s, I continued to build my sense of self through what I did.
A few years later, I had a desirable full-time position. I had successfully adapted to a new culture, country, city, language and specialty. I had earned the credibility and respect of my peers and superiors alike. And yet, I crashed and burned. What happened?
I had invested a lifetime in something that came crumbling down under the weight of my own expectations. The success, the accolades, the shiny title—none of it made me feel full. By the summer of 2014, at the age of 42, my depression was severe. In the fall, I did the unthinkable and quit my job.
I was quitting my identity. After all, for decades I had built the notion that what I did confirmed and validated who I was. And who I was, was a shadow of a person. Tired and depressed, along with everything she thought she wanted. Nothing will sober you up faster than to wake up trying to quit the life you wanted.
New beginnings. Right definitions.
Over the next few weeks and months I relearned how to be a person. I did not just quit my job that fall, I quit an entire lifestyle and way of looking at my self and the world. Even the positive aspects of my work experience were marred by this relentless pursuit. A soil filled with roots and weeds from other fruits will not take new seed. My burnout was God’s saving grace.
Fruitfulness invested in the wrong things reaps more of the same: wrong things.
I don’t mean to say that investing effort and hard work in a career path is wrong. We are created with gifts, passions, intelligence, creativity, and the desire to invest them. But self-affirmation is not meant to be found in the work of our hands.
Who we are is not to be found in what we do, but in whose we are. What we do is an expression of the gifts we’ve been given. It is the Giver Himself who gives us identity, not the gifts.
For the better part of my adulthood I was trying to achieve. Yet, when Jesus died on the cross, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). I was trying so hard to have a full life. Full of what? It begs the question. Once again, Jesus’s words come to mind: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). I was working with the wrong definitions. I was not working with the Truth.
I sowed much to build an identity that reaped hollow. If He came that I may have abundant life, why did my pursuits make me feel so empty? I was expecting they would build me up; not just my bank account or reputation. A life built on what He did and Who He is, is not a life relentlessly pursuing validation and definition. By faith, my identity has already been validated and defined in the work He did.
But sowing good seeds reaps wonderful fruit. God is so faithful; He will make us fruitful in the right things. Those will prove to be satisfying beyond our understanding.
Hosea 10:12 says:
“Sow for yourselves righteousness;
Reap steadfast love;
Break up your fallow ground,
For it is the time to seek the Lord,
That he may come and rain righteousness upon you.”
Hosea 10:12 ESV
There was a time in my life when my calendar needed to be full of meetings and important looking pursuits. These days, I am learning to be faithful in the unseen moments of everyday life. To vacuum, cook dinner, write, study, or listen to a friend with the same gusto and commitment I used for putting together a power point presentation for a Fortune 500 client. Understanding you can do any of those tasks for the glory of God, or for your own glory, marks the difference between a life well spent and a spent life.
New blooms grow slowly and take seasons and tending to show. We do the tending, for what we water will grow. The seasons are the various turns our lives will take. But the new blooms, those are brought by the Lord and planted by His grace. In the very crisis of our lives, the hard moments, in His hands, are achieving the breaking up of the unplowed ground. And when He works the soil, He brings new life.
Paola Barrera was educated between various cultures and languages and holds a Masters in Integrated Marketing Communications, and a B.A. in International Studies. Fluent in 4 languages by age 16, she’s lived in 5 countries, is a third-culture kid and also an immigrant. After 15 years of corporate experience in marketing, one day Paola decided to quit her job, walking away from a whole way of viewing life and herself, and began to redefine how to best invest her talents and skills. Writing, mentoring young women, and public speaking are part of that investment. When she is not doing that, she can be found doing laundry, wrestling words down on paper, or going for a run. She believes the best life is lived intentionally in the intersection between the everyday and eternal perspective. Paola and her husband Gustavo live in Montreal, Canada and you can connect with her on her blog Words Out Loud, Twitter, and Instagram.