It was probably the most pivotal moment in my entire career. Like road to Damascus pivotal.
I don’t know when exactly, but at some point I came to believe that the things I learned in church were of little value in “the real world.” Soon, I found myself compartmentalizing my skills. Worse yet, I no longer believed in the usefulness of skills I had acquired from different areas of my life. I resigned that some of my skills were for church and others were for business. You know, I had some skills for the day of rest and the remaining skills were for the work day.
Lessons from Essence
Then I got my first break! Excited about this new chapter in my life I left my small hometown of Berrien Springs, Michigan and moved to New York City. Everything about my experience working as a young professional was new and exciting. There was so much I didn’t know. And at times I felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant. My background was so different from everyone else’s. I didn’t go to a fancy college or know anything about Greek life. And it was these stark differences that made me wonder if I could get from where I was to where many of my colleagues were. Fortunately, I met someone that changed my perspective forever.
His name was at the top of the organizational chart and mine was at the bottom, misspelled. Our worlds couldn’t have been more different. But the more I heard him speak the greater similarity I found within our purpose. Listening to him partially because someone told me there would be free lunch, I learned that he created the strategy for how to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in digital revenue across Time Inc’s brands. Extremely gracious with his time and wisdom, he met with about a dozen young black professionals. In that meeting he shared insights on how to ascend professionally.
An Unlikely Training Ground
I was awestruck by his unlikely story. He spoke of always having the right type of experience in order to take on bigger and bigger roles for jobs. And even shared how most of these jobs never existed until his skillset presented the need for the position. This kind of professional mobility he credited to his ability to differentiate the signal from the noise. Even though he ascended to professional heights that most people would never know, he maintained a level of accessibility and ease that made him very approachable.
Still wanting more clarity on the key to his success, someone asked what he thought contributed the most to his success. He said, “I think the fact that I was given the opportunity to do scripture reading at church at a young age gave me a lot of confidence.” I was dumbfounded! “The secret to his success was church?” I don’t know if it’s because I have never seen “Must have 25 years experience in a church setting” as a job requirement, but it truly never occurred to me that the things I learned at church could be useful to me at work. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that growing up in church gave me a considerable amount of skills and abilities that could prove very useful to me professionally.
In that moment, I hadn’t gotten any bigger nor had the city gotten any smaller. But suddenly I was able to see the world around me and my place in it with a new found confidence. Once this clicked for me, my career took off.
Church Translates to Corporate
Once I made that shift in my mind I realized that my church trained me for my corporate job. The power struggles I saw between those content with traditional methods versus those who wanted change were no different than conflicts that arose at church board meeting. Knowing how to come to an understanding with people who came to wildly different conclusions based on the same email was no different than small group Bible Study. Pitching a new sponsorship opportunity to a client was no different from doing the offertory. Connecting with strangers at a client meeting was no different than greeting people at the doors of the church. Finding creative solutions to problems without spending any money was no different than almost anything I have done for church. Can I get a witness?
My challenge to anyone reading this today is to go back through all the years you attended church from a young child until today. Look and truly reconsider if you are using all of your skills to their maximum benefit. Whether you’re in a comfortable spot in your career or are looking to reimagine what’s next for you, I’m confident this mental shift will take you to the next level professionally and personally. Maybe write it down. Share it with us in the comments. Let us know what useful skills you learned from being involved at church that you can use professionally.