At Work

When Your Career Falls Apart

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I was enjoying an exhilarating and fulfilling career at a large advertising agency. Accolades, advancement, fun work, great people, and star-status at the agency—I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Then, it all fell apart. The next three years would prove very different.

The account that had been the driver of this exciting experience had a new CEO. In addition, our primary contact at this client, who had led the growth of the account from $3 million to $34 million, retired. The new CEO asked our CEO, our president, and myself to lunch. What I didn’t know was that I was to be the “main course.”

The client’s CEO accused us of plagiarism because a similar visual technique had been used in another client’s commercial. The client CEO felt the technique was proprietary to them. While it had been used inadvertently, it gave him an opportunity to call for a change in leadership at my expense. My superiors had anticipated he was going to ask for greater involvement from me when actually it was exactly the opposite.

After the meeting, as we sat together in the car, I told the president and CEO, “You need to do what must be done. There’s too much at stake. I will be fine.”

Life Changes

Things quickly and radically changed for me. Because I had been fully invested in the account as it grew, it limited my ability to be assigned to other accounts. My experience was more suited to durable goods accounts or business-to-business. These tended to have smaller advertising budgets, unlike the packaged goods accounts that dominated our agency’s business. As a result, the only accounts I was now assigned to were small ones with limited activity and visibility. I had a lot of free time.

Before, I was driving the growth and success of this large account, getting things done, and overseeing the work of 40 people. Now, I was in a position of having things done to me, with limited control and influence.

Justice Is for Others

The best piece of advice I received at the time was that justice is not something we seek for ourselves, but for others. It is this perspective that I took forward.

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the Twelve [apostles], went off to the chief priests in order to betray and hand him over to them (Mark 14:10, Amplified Bible).

Henri Nouwen points out in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter that the key word often translated as “betrayed” is actually the Greek word meaning “handed over.”

Nouwen goes on to say,

…this drama of being handed over divides the life of Jesus radically in two. The first part of Jesus’ life is filled with activity. Jesus takes all sorts of initiatives. He speaks; he preaches; he heals; he travels. But immediately after Jesus is handed over, he becomes the one to whom things are being done. He’s being arrested; he’s being led to the high priest; he’s being taken before Pilate; he’s being crowned with thorns; he’s being nailed on a cross. Things are being done to him over which he has no control. That is the meaning of passion—being the recipient of other people’s initiatives.

Jesus’ response illustrates his great love for his Father and complete trust in him. He let himself be handed over.

It helps me understand the call of Christ to “hand things over” and put my hope in God’s care and faithfulness. Rather than trying to control the outcome, or fight for my own justice, the focus is on surrendering and submitting to God’s will in the circumstance, allowing him to make the most of it.

Praying As You Wait

Over time, things became more challenging. At the Monday-morning management meetings, as we went around the room to give updates, I didn’t have any accomplishments or much of anything to report. As a result, I often felt like I was a green, fluorescent, pulsating, orb in the midst of my peers, conspicuous for my non-contribution and my salary’s drain on the bottom line.

I prayed about whether I should look for a new job, but always felt I should persevere. Here are some perspectives that helped me:

  • I serve the Lord in my job, no matter what is happening.
  • Any way I make myself useful to others is a service to him.
  • He said I should take up my cross and follow him. This is an opportunity for that.
  • He will use this time of testing and trial to strengthen and form me.
  • God knows my situation and is here with me. God is always good and he is always enough for any situation.

Refined in Adversity

After three years, I was indeed laid off in a business downturn. This began the final chapter of my business career. But I was better prepared for what was to come in the ups and downs of the economy and business.

In hindsight, I can see how God bore much fruit from that situation in who I am and what I do today. I have no regrets or bitterness. In fact, it was a wonderful turning point in my life. My relationship with God is much more intimate today. Humility and trust grow in difficulties. I am more teachable and adaptable to circumstances I am not able to control.

This incident didn’t define my life, but it was an important experience God used to refine me. We learn a lot about ourselves in adversity.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised (Heb. 10:36).

I’m well aware how much the way I responded to the accusation from our client runs counter to our culture’s philosophy. When difficulty, misunderstanding, resistance, and animosities come my way, it helps me to be reminded not to seek my own justice. Similar opportunities abound for all of us in small ways and big ways. We don’t have to look far. When they come, I now know that my call is to be like Jesus, allowing myself to be handed over.


Editor’s Note: Learn more biblical principles for work in How Then Should We Work: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work by Hugh Whelchel.

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