Updated: Jan 21
When I was growing up, the messages I was receiving at church and at home about being humble, doing my best without ever telling anybody about it, and working hard at my one day job, all coalesced into the idea that hard work is self-evident to others. It took a lot longer than it should have for me to realize this was poppycock.
I should have known better in high school, when I had two different classes in which I worked very hard, but my teachers in those classes never bothered to learn my name. I sat in their classrooms, participated in class discussions, and spent hours studying, only to come to the end of the semester and realize I'd never made even the slightest impression. I should have known then, but it wasn't until I was in my mid-20s and sitting in an office, wondering again if anyone had even noticed the work I was doing, that I finally realized that I had entered the workforce inadequately prepared to be my own advocate.
That early drilling in humility and not bragging about my accomplishments still haunts me quite a bit, but I've at least developed a personal workaround: to keep detailed notes and spreadsheets about practically everything and overwhelm my coworkers and supervisors with my organizational skills and ready source of information. (That workaround is also useful for combating my scatterbrain.) I wish I had a better solution for this, but I don't.
Here's what I do have. Because I know what it is to have to struggle to be recognized, because I know what it's like to work hard and see the credit land elsewhere, because I'm remarkably good at self-deprecation: I make sure to give credit where it's due, always. If there are congratulations for good ideas or a job well done floating around, I make sure to share credit with everyone who contributed to the success. When I'm done (or in the middle of) overwhelming my boss with my stack of spreadsheets, I mention all the people who contributed data. If I think that anyone is going under-appreciated or unrecognized, I bring some appreciation and recognition to that person and to their manager.
Nobody wants to get lost in the crowd. But sometimes it happens. How do we respond when it does? Image source: B S K on freeimages.com.
I'm not perfect in this. There are things that I miss and times I forget. There are days when I share credit begrudgingly, because I would have liked for that good idea to be all mine. I'm sure most of you have better ways of dealing with both of these things. But when it comes to acting out my faith at work, the tension between having appropriate humility and receiving appropriate recognition is a needle I've never been able to thread. And perhaps my calling is to give others a boost and cheer them along, even if it means my own ego takes a few dings.
We live in a world where humility is undervalued, and sometimes our modern life seems to be about gathering all the attention we can so we're not forgotten when we're gone. To even try to bring humility to work is counter-cultural, and will probably bring us some personal setbacks. This is where we have to cling with all our might to Colossians 3:22-25: "And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ." (The Message)
What's your method for being both visible and humble?