At Work

A Tolkien Tale Tackles Workplace Pride

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“That’s marvelous!” I’ve heard people say upon beholding an antique oak chair I’ve refinished. And I’ve relished the comment.

“Wow, you are delivering a beautiful product!” If you are keeping your promises for clients, you’ve heard someone say it. And you’ve rejoiced.

It is good to deliver good goods and services, especially ones of exceptional quality. We should strive for excellent, stunning products and strong customer satisfaction. Yes indeed, we the workers can enjoy the solid satisfaction that comes with a healthy sense of accomplishment. Recognition of personal satisfaction in one’s labors is enriching.

But there’s a very sneaky, slippery, dangerous side to your best products and services, those times you are at the top of your game and “killing it” with your most wonderful work.

The Source of Creative Talents

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s foundational masterpiece, The Silmarillion, the character Fëanor (pronounced “fay-uh-nor”) was remarkably gifted in multiple skills of both mind and hands. He excelled in the design of “Elvish” script lettering as well as crafting precious gems. Tolkien’s ancient tale reveals a brilliant, ambitious young man who was also stubborn, fiery, and self-absorbed.

The zenith of Fëanor’s craftsmanship were three great jewels called the Silmarils. Their outer body consisted of a mysteriously strong substance, “like the crystal of diamond it appeared.” But there was more to these gems that set them apart—they possessed an inner fire. Tolkien explained: “…Fëanor made [that inner fire] of the blended light of the Trees of Valinor.” His clients and contacts loved his work and “were filled with wonder and delight.”

At times, the gifted young craftsman would bring out the gems to show them off, even wearing them on his brow at great feasts. But many other times, they were locked away in his deep chambers.

The slippery-of-soul portion of this talented young man’s story comes in Tolkien’s poignant explanation of his attitude and behavior: “For Fëanor began to love the Silmarils with a greedy love, and grudged the sight of them to all save his father and his seven sons.”

And the deeper revelation by Tolkien of the golden boy’s dark intent: “…he seldom remembered now that the light within them was not his own.”

As the story continues, Fëanor’s prideful actions impact his family members and the wider community in devastating ways. This Tolkien tale demonstrates how “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). Across The Silmarillion, Fëanor’s pride causes a deadly avalanche of epic proportions.

Forgetting the Source of Our Giftedness

Herein lies a flaming, pervasive issue, not exclusive to this ancient, most-renowned worker among the Elves. Perhaps you cringe upon reading Tolkien’s narrative critique of Fëanor’s heart. I personally wince because one-too-many times, deep inside the darkest chambers of my soul, I have indulged in similar slippery self-aggrandizing:

  • “Wow, that was an amazing project. People showed up and applauded. Am I good, or what?!”
  • “Our team is delivering in remarkable ways, and it’s because of my brilliant leadership. What would they do without me?!”

You can likely fill in your own “fiery light of my Silmarils” moments—those times you’ve soaked up a bit too much of the glory and lost sight of the source of the light.

How can we counteract such over-estimation of our own wonderful works? Two suggestions:

1. Remember it takes a team to create something wonderful. Spread the praise!

If Fëanor had recalibrated his own thoughts, he might have remembered that during his youth, he honed skills for his craft through his father-in-law’s training. He would have also recalled that he was not the real source of the precious inner light of the Silmarils—thanks and praise were due someone else.     

G.K. Chesteron famously said: “Thanks are the highest form of thought. Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

If we each slow down to take stock, we realize that we stand on the broad shoulders of others, both now and in the past. Someone trained you. Someone poured into you in your early days. Several current team members have burned the late-night oil to help bring that product or project to fruition. So, remember them. Speak up and spread your gratitude! Send the note. Express words of thanks at the next party. To whom do you need to say “thanks” today?

2. Recall the ultimate source of your creative spark. Offer up praise!

Yes, Fëanor forgot that the brilliance of the Silmarils came not from himself but from shining trees. Ironically, Fëanor’s name means “Spirit of Fire.” Fëanor’s most dangerous amnesia was this: He forgot that his own fire for creativity was a gracious, primal gift from his creator, Ilúvatar.

When we have produced our own “Silmarils”—that stunning new house, the published and praised poem, a game-winning touchdown pass, or a record month of sales—it is crucial to recall the Creator from whom our fire and creative spark originated. Though tempting, we have no genuine grounds for pride. When we intentionally praise God, we stay healthy, right-sized, and ready to produce even more wonderful works in the days to come!

Editor’s note: What is the purpose for your giftedness? Learn more in the Understanding God’s Calling curriculum, a high school homeschool elective course.

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Photo: Stojanoski Slave

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