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Strength for the Journey

I love and respect my father deeply and most of what I’ve learned in business came directly from him. There have been a number of things that I’ve “caught” over the years but there have also been a number of things that he’s taught me as well.

Although my so-called career was (and is continuing to be) significantly different than his path and journey, his advice and counsel has always still applied. In fact, I’ve never made any significant business decision without his thoughts first. He’s been an incredible mentor and friend. Like many things in life, I wish I had realized this even sooner.

His life had a significant pivot a few years back when he retired for literally for one weekend after 35 years of working in big business and then began a journey through seminary to become a chaplain. There’s far too much to share about this transition but he captured a few thoughts in a contribution to his Seminary’s school newsletter and paper in mid 2010.

I found it recently and wanted to capture it because I’m sure I’ll lose the physical copy at some point but thankfully I’ll have it here for my own personal use and review. I wanted to share it with you guys as well.

Strength for the Journey

I fall into an unofficial category of student here at Austin Seminary, easily labeled “a second-career” person. That is very obvious when you see me. I was fortunate to have spent thirty-five wonderful, challenging years as a Johnson & Johnson executive.

I had at least fifteen distinct assignments within six of J&J’s 180-some companies around the world. These assignments were exciting opportunities, and my business career could have continued. But it began to occur to me about ten years ago, in a very slow process, that my life might be undergoing a shift that wouldn’t be satisfied with more corporate moves.

In no way did I understand this shift at the time. “What is happening to me?” I said on many occasions.

Outside of my business experience, I have been influenced significantly over the past forty years through volunteer work with the homeless and hungry, prisoners having no hope, and with international adoption of children who have no families to love them.

I definitely did not feel in control about all of this “call evolution,” but it has been an exciting time. Strength for the Journey is the title of a bok of sermons authored by Peter Gomes, a professor at Harvard University. His sermons, rich in imagery, humor, and insight, directed toward the students in that university, began to work in my heart and mind in the late 1990s about my own vocational journey and the discernment that I knew I desperately needed.

So, is this a “second call” for me? Or is it merely “Act II” to the same play, started immediately after a short retirement “intermission” consisting of a single Labor Day weekend in 2008? While the characters in this play are a little older, a little heavier, and a lot slower than they were in Act I, I will not pull the wisdom card at this point because I do not feel very wise.

How much continuity is there in my life between the years covering 1969 to 2008 and now? Surprisingly, I believe it will have much similarity. Being a chaplain or in congregational ministry will certainly not have the same smells, sights, and sounds of the productive lines of baby powder and Band-Aids, but my industry career, in hindsight, was remarkably pastoral in the senes that I cared for thousands of employees who had constant turmoil in their lives when not at work and had tension and conflict to deal with in the workplace.

In order to have efficient work processes, managers need to be concerned about and keenly aware of all this turmoil and conflict, since good management is really just an effort to empower people to manage themselves by providing them listening ears, adequate resources, training, expectations, direction, and feedback.

The employees working for me needed to know that I cared about them and their families 24/7, not just when we were at work together. They needed to know that they were capable of solving most of their own problems, and that their relationships with those around them were primarily their own responsibility. It now feels somewhat pastoral, although it did not at the time.

Author Parker Palmer in Let Your Life Speak describes vocation as “not an act of will … but at its deepest level it is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.”

That is exactly how both my Act I and Act II feel to me. I am excited to learn and prepare for Act III, regardless of its set design, and I feel so blessed to be in this place called Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I pray for strength for the journey, for me and my loving family who support me!

- Written by Jeff Saddington, Summer 2010, MDiv 2011