Many years ago, I worked in marketing for a leading mobile phone company. While it was a fun time to be there, and I was learning a lot, after about a year and a half, I realized I felt empty. I couldn't understand why, though. After all, it was a high-energy job and I was working with the best marketers in the industry. I should have been riding high, but instead I kept thinking, I don't care about mobile phones. I don't care about the next wave of technology. I don't care about the product I'm helping promote.
That was a problem since communications and marketing had been my field of study and expertise.
The longer I worked there, the more confused I became. What am I supposed to do now? Deep down I knew: I wanted to use my skills and education—but I wanted to use them on something that really mattered. But what? What would it look like for me to put my gifts, energies, and skills into something I actually cared about?
Through soul searching and prayer, I realized that ultimately, what really matters to me is Christ, and what matters to him are people. I wanted to be part of an organization that had the same priorities, so I quit my job and went to work using my communication skills for Christian organizations.
Little did I understand that was the first step in moving me into what God had in mind for skills I didn't realize I even had!
Me, in women's ministry?
As I settled in and started to feel comfortable with my new job, someone from my church approached me about a women's ministry opportunity in which I'd provide leadership, shape direction, and invest in the other leaders. Although I felt passionate about women and women's issues, I'd never seen myself working in women's ministry; all the stereotypes surrounding it just were not me. Plus I didn't have a seminary degree, and I wasn't a Bible teacher. I thought those were the kinds of people equipped to lead in women's ministry.
I wasn't sure I was right for the job. I told them I'd have to think about it.
Building each other up
I did think about it, and was sure I wouldn't be the best fit. What if I messed up? What if I wasn't able to build into these women?
As I weighed my options and expectations, I began to think about other women who had invested in me. At an early age, I was fortunate to have older women see potential in me and invest in my growth. Their investments made a huge difference in my life.
One such woman was my high school English teacher, who also went to my church. She had known me from the age of three or four. She saw potential in me, pushed me beyond my comfort zone, and challenged me to do hard things. She would pull me aside every once in a while and speak some truth, rounding off my rough edges.
Then I thought of my high school coaches who did the same thing. I went to a small school, so I played all the sports we had. I was a freshman and sophomore on the varsity teams, and my coach would pull me aside and say, "Do you see what's happening on the floor? Do you see what happens whenever she misses a shot or whenever she's going this way? You need to pull her aside and encourage her. You need to point out to her what she's missing. You need to help her see the floor."
I didn't realize it at the time, but they were grooming me for leadership. They taught me how to invest in other people. They identified potential in me, believed in me, and pushed me.
The reminder of their investment in me encouraged me to say yes to this women's ministry opportunity that, otherwise, I may never have agreed to.
Despite my reservations and insecurities, I said yes and took on that leadership role. And with the reminder of how my mentors worked with me, I tried to do the same with the women I was leading. I wanted to use my experiences to help people identify their potential and become who God created them to be. I realized that if I'm living into my potential and others are living into their potential, God's kingdom is better for it.
Learning my limits
The amazing thing about God is that he uses our skills, yet he continues to grow and transform us. Growing up with a Type-A personality, I was performance-oriented, always interested in showing everyone how successful I could be. If someone had a project for me, I'd give it 150 percent. Everything was about being successful, being the best, and doing everything in my own strength.
Unfortunately, that was also how I approached my job and relationships. I spent all my time and energy feeling responsible for everything—how my team turned out, how my team performed, how the organization performed. I walked around with my church on my shoulders, feeling that if I failed on a project, it was all going to fall apart.
Finally a tornado of big experiences converged on me and I crashed hard. In a two-year period, I: gave birth to my second child; took on a new ministry leadership role with more responsibility and three times as many people to shepherd; moved into a new house; implemented major ministry changes that led to significant conflict; helped lead through historic church-wide changes, which led to countless meetings with concerned, angry or unhappy members; and had minor surgery. Instead of bouncing back as I normally did, I questioned everything—my joy, my leadership. I'd experienced the most demanding years of my personal and professional life. I'd pushed through, pressed on, and given it more of me until there was literally nothing left. The season left me depleted relationally, spiritually, and emotionally. I was numb, exhausted, and fragile. I was empty.
Led by God
When I finally landed in a counselor's office to talk about why I had so little desire for sex with my husband, she asked me about what had been going on. I listed the major events, and she said that any one of those experiences would have been a lot to navigate. Put them all in succession and it wasn't surprising that I didn't want to have sex. She wondered why I wasn't curled up on her couch in the fetal position.
With her help I realized I'd been treating my life as if I were a soldier for the Lord just waiting for the next orders, the next thing to do. I was so busy trying to lead that I wasn't allowing myself to be led by God.
Thankfully, I was scheduled for a sabbatical. Those three months of soul care not only kept me from leaving ministry, they kept me from losing my health and sanity as well. God healed some broken places and addressed areas he'd already started speaking to me about. In addition to sin, lack of care for my physical body, and poor decisions during this dark period, I found three major factors that contributed to my unintended emptiness: unhealthy pace, unnoticed habits, and unbelievable noise.
Showing my weaknesses
In the last several years, God has been changing my pattern of striving and performance. He's shown me that my strengths are limited, but that ultimately, it isn't about my strengths. It's about leaning into him and who he is creating me to be. I can work hard, I can invest in other people and push and encourage them, but in the end, he is responsible. I'm working with him, not in place of him.
As a mentor to other women, I wanted to hide that side of me. I only wanted them to see the strong side. After that experience, I realized God wanted other women to see all of me—even the weak parts—because that was part of mentoring and encouraging too.
Now I remind young leaders who take on so much of the weight of their organizations or teams that being in the presence of the living God is all that really matters. All the rest will work itself out somehow. And as we invest in other people's lives, we encourage in an honest way.
For nine years I led the women's ministry, then oversaw all the communications of the church. Now I work independently as a coach and consultant. I've learned that regardless of my specific role, I can pursue my great passion to help other women find their calling and empower them for what God's gifted them to do.
I'm created to empower leaders to change the world. When a woman knows her purpose, she can make decisions every day to look more like the person God made her to be. I'm grateful for the women who took the time to be honest with me and invest in my potential. I'm grateful God used them to grow me. And I'm grateful that he is blessing me with the ability to do that for other women.
Julie Pierce is a leadership coach, consultant, and communicator who lives in Texas. You can friend her on Facebook (Julie Hardin Pierce) or follow her on Twitter (@julie_pierce) or Pinterest (Julie Pierce).
Investing in the Future
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