We want to be recognized for our accomplishments. It’s part of being human – it’s an elemental part of our relationships.
But it can be a devastating trap, to spend your day, your career, or even your entire adult life looking for recognition from your boss, your spouse, or the distant dad that was loath to say, “I love you.”
If the meaning of your life is embodied in a need for validation, you will run into serious trouble.
In the workplace, this can have a particularly devastating effect. The worker whose work ethic is based on receiving special recognition and validation will find one of the following two possibilities can happen:
- All that hard work, all that sacrifice for the sake of the company finally gets the recognition you’ve sought. Your boss uses you as the positive example during the staff meeting. Unfortunately, the feeling of elation and the sense of accomplishment quickly fades and you find yourself caught again in the cycle of chasing more recognition. The need for others approval becomes insatiable. Or,
- All that hard work, all that sacrifice for the sake of the company and the recognition never happens. No one calls you out. You aren’t used as the positive example. Despair sets in. All this hard work and no one notices you. Your thoughts begin to resemble Eeyore’s. In a somewhat sadistic fashion, you find yourself caught again in the cycle of chasing more recognition. The need for others approval becomes insatiable…
Regardless of the outcome, the search for recognition becomes a hamster wheel. In many ways. As someone who has lived this struggle, let me suggest a better alternative.
Your work ethic should have nothing to do with the acknowledgement you could receive.
Work hard. Get into the office early. Meet your deadlines. Don’t gossip about your co-workers. Be a fun team member. Admit when you’re wrong. Continuously learn and grow as an employee. This is the work ethic of a leader, with a proud legacy – whether or not it’s ever noticed.
The work ethic I’m talking about is an issue of identity.
The most profound of all leaders sacrificed daily, working harder than anyone else around, without seeking praise. Instead, operating under the grace of God, a leader identifies with Jesus, the ultimate example of great leadership. Consider the Apostle Paul of the Bible:
“For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them – though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” I Cor. 15:9-10, NRSV
This ethic is applicable in whatever context you apply your hand.
You can give all that hard work, all that sacrifice for the sake of the organization, for fleeting recognition, and in so doing set yourself up as a god to be worshipped briefly. Or you can reorient your identity in Jesus, who recognizes your every breath and who will reward your work in an eternal context.
You and I make crappy gods. When our identity is in Jesus, we not only get him as a person, we get his strength and grace to work hard. When we live for his recognition, we’ll find ourselves free from the hamster wheel. Free, indeed.