Early in my career as a scientist, the most difficult activity, next to writing peer-reviewed papers, was standing up in front of an audience of peers to talk about my research. I was terrified of being asked a question I couldn’t answer or of someone spotting a weak link in my reasoning. While I still struggle with the writing part, speaking to a group has become less frightening thanks to some advice I received from a friend.
“As one trying to follow the Master,” he said, “our focus should be less on making ourselves look good and more on making others successful.” For one whose primary concern was the furtherance of my own career this posed quite a switch, but it made sense in light of what Jesus said to his disciples about how to become great (Matthew 20:25-26).
My first opportunity to test this idea arrived when I started a new position working at the
where I was paid to do a job instead of pursue my own research interests. My superiors gave me the task of developing real-time, interrupt-driven control software for a Very Long Baseline Interferometry correlation system. I barely had a clue about what to do. Day after day, I prayed for God’s wisdom and help. After struggling with it for a good part of a year, my boss wanted me to give a review and status report to some higher-level managers. Needless to say, the prospect terrified me.
In this circumstance I remembered my friend’s advice and thought it might be applicable. Instead of worrying about how I would appear, I chose to focus on giving a presentation that would make my boss look good. I was surprised at how effective this viewpoint proved, both in relieving me of fear and resulting in a presentation that was well-received. From that time on I decided to work on making others successful and to trust God for my own success. In time, I discovered that this principle related to Jesus’ claim that there is more joy in giving than in receiving (Acts 20:35).
When I became a technical group supervisor a few years later, I had plenty of opportunities to practice this principle. My goal became to figure out what I could do to make each member of my team productive in their jobs. What resources did they need? What special training was required? Did they need help getting past a difficult problem? Did they need to switch tasks? How could I encourage them? If they were successful, then I was successful. In fact, I received a lot of the credit when my team did a good job. If I focused on myself, I became jealous, competitive, anxious, and prideful. When I worked on making them a success, I experienced the joy that God promised to those who give. As a side benefit, the team members were much more willing to help each other and to receive help and correction from me.
Putting this biblical principle into practice provided me with one more example of how God’s commands are meant to bring us abundant life, not to interfere with our freedom.