Written by Yap Jie Ying, Singapore
How could this be? Have I not proven myself enough since I joined this company? Eyes glued to my laptop screen, I dragged my mouse from the start of the video to the end over and over. I was sure I had just missed my photo from the crop of worthy employees in the video that HR put out to announce the latest promotions for the year.
Indignant at the omission, I barged—yes, barged—into my reporting manager’s office to ask for an explanation.
Twenty minutes later, though, I left the office defeated, the empty assurances of “There is still the December cycle” and “Let’s try harder next year” still ringing in my ears.
For the next three weeks, I mopped around dejectedly, losing all drive to complete my deliverables. Simple tasks such as replying to emails became a dreaded chore, and I shrunk from projects that my bosses needed help with. What was the point? I couldn’t help but feel shortchanged.
For a few nights, I sat in the dark, unable to sleep. On one hand, I wanted to do a micro-analysis of my performance over the past year to find out what went wrong. On the other hand, I just wanted to curl up under my blanket and stew at the injustice of it all.
I felt that I had ticked all the boxes. I reached the office earlier than anyone. I got along well with everyone. I took initiatives and did my job to the best of my abilities. I deserved this promotion.
As though God wanted to address my discontent promptly, this verse from Colossians immediately came to mind. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23).
If, like me, you grew up in an achievement-oriented society, the constant race for material and professional accomplishments, social acceptance, and greater opportunities is not new. And so, the struggle to detach my self-worth from my work performance continues, particularly when a work anniversary or performance review approaches. What have I accomplished in the past year that can justify a bigger bonus or a raise/promotion?
Whenever these worries begin to rush in, I find it helpful to go back to the big picture of the Cross. Because of Jesus’s sacrifice, we have been set free from the need to seek further validation and prove our worth.
Moreover, all our accomplishments, bank accounts, investment portfolios, and the legacies we live behind will cease to exist once our time on earth is up (Ecclesiastes 1:2,14), but we have our heavenly inheritance to look forward to (Ephesians 1:18, 1 Peter 1:4).
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t make any effort; after all, God created us to work to care for His creation and reflect His glory (Genesis 2:15), and He delights in the good work done for Him and in His name. What’s important is to remember that it is His pleasure and approval that matters most.
I know this is easier said than done when we’re caught up with the pressures of work life, but it is really the question to ask ourselves if we truly want to “work heartily, as for the Lord”. And so I am reminded to intentionally and regularly reflect on what it means to “work for the Lord, not for human masters”.
Getting back my initial enthusiasm took much perseverance, but it got easier when I started reframing my perspective of work. I started to see every task as a privilege that I have been entrusted with. This meant approaching each task with dedication and seeing it to completion to the best of my ability.
My job requires me to interact with multiple stakeholders on a daily basis. Doing my work well helps my colleagues complete their work more efficiently, and it builds mutual trust. Moreover, every interaction creates opportunities for more intentional, casual conversations that can pave the way for deeper topics such as life purpose and meaning, which can open up opportunities to share about my faith more intimately.
Through all these, I am beginning to see how my colleagues, like myself, need God’s unconditional love. I am constantly reminded to demonstrate patience and grace, especially when it comes to working with challenging people. I’m moved to think about how I can use my current role as a springboard to demonstrate God’s love and reveal His goodness through what I do.
With this shift in perspective, it became easier to shelve my initial disappointment and forge on. Whenever I am overwhelmed by self-doubt, I find peace by ruminating on the truth that Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33) and He continues to pray for me (Hebrews 7:25). It’s important for me to hold these assurances close to my heart, so that the desire for recognition in the workplace does not consume me.
Reflecting on my struggle with not being promoted has encouraged me to look again to God and remember His purpose for me. This has also meant regularly setting aside time out of my busy schedule to read a short devotional passage or verse and reflect on it.
I hope to encourage you to do the same, and to be reminded of His purpose for us wherever we are. That by doing well in our respective jobs and vocations, may “our light shine before others”, so that those who have yet to believe in God “may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
In a few weeks, I will be approaching the all-too-familiar promotion season again. Would you pray with me that I will not, once again, let myself be defined by my achievements in the workplace? So that, regardless of the results, I will continue to glorify God through my work.