I Have To See The Chips Fly

Years ago a workplace research group from California approached some loggers in the Pacific Northwest.

They made what seemed like an offer too good to be true.

“We’ll double your pay for the next month.  All you have to do is swing your axe so the handle hits the tree instead of the blade.”

“You’re on!” said one of the loggers.  He promptly began to earn good money by making no progress at all.

By the end of the second day he told the researchers he wanted his old job and his old pay scale back.

“Why?”  they asked.  “I have to see the chips fly,” he memorably answered.

Money is overrated.

People sometimes leave jobs they love because they can make a few more bucks down the street.  It’s a matter of respect, they may say.  Or, “I’m worth it.”

Either of those may be true.

But all too often we end up discovering that the greatest pleasure we derive from our work – the source of the drive that compels us to labor with energy, joy and excellence – has more to do with seeing the chips fly than what our paycheck says.

I vividly remember a conversation years ago with a freshman college student during Thanksgiving break.  “What are you majoring in?” I asked.

“Chemical engineering,” he said.  “That’s awesome,” I replied.  “What do you love about chemistry?” “Not much,” came the surprising response.

“So the real draw is engineering?” I suggested.  “No,” said the student.  “I’m not that excited about it, either.”

“So why are you majoring in chemical engineering?” I asked, genuinely puzzled.  The student then rattled off the average salary of a first-year chemical engineer, which at the time was indeed impressive.

“If you could do anything you wanted, what do you really want to do?”

“Oh,” said the student, visibly brightening, “I’d love to write children’s books.”  Then a cloud seemed to pass over his face.  “But no one will pay me to do that.”

We can’t always fulfill our deepest call – that labor of love or deep dream that seems to be hard-wired by God into our souls – in exchange for a dynamite salary.

But there are other ways forward.  Perhaps the solution is to work with diligence and integrity at our current, less-than-ideal jobs as a way of funding our real call – that avocation that we can now pursue 10-15 hours a week for free.

Our job pays the light bill.  And it can also free us to serve at an inner city food pantry; or assist senior citizens with their taxes; or help a small group of teenage girls navigate the icebergs of seventh grade; or write books that will delight children.

Don’t surrender your call just because it doesn’t pay your bills.

Saying yes to the burden that God has placed on your heart “pays off” in ways impossible to overstate.

Just make sure, at the end of your life, you can truly say you saw the chips fly.

— Authored by Glenn McDonald

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