A business expert on defining success and healthy career mindsets

Written by Andrea Nwabuike

Before Adam and Eve made an afternoon snack of the forbidden fruit, their days were occupied with tending to the Garden of Eden. Their capacity to work was reflective of their Creator, who had laboured for six days bringing order out of chaos. Work was part of God’s good design. But for the modern workforce, saddled by ever-increasing demands, work can feel like a consequence of the fall.

According to Statistics Canada, over one in four workers report being highly stressed and 62 per cent report work is their biggest source of stress. As the pandemic continues to stretch employees beyond their limits, burnout and workplace dissatisfaction rates are on the rise.

These statistics tell a bleak story. But there is another narrative emerging. The pandemic has triggered several paradigm shifts in the global workforce, opening the door to deeper conversations on how and why we work. For business leader Alana Walker Carpenter, the gospel enters these conversations with a call to reimagine work, pointing us back toward God’s original design. 

As the CEO of Intriciti, an organization that engages business leaders in recapturing the sacred purpose behind their careers, Alana Walker Carpenter is convinced the pursuit of excellence in our individual fields of work is part of our mandate as agents of reconciliation.

Carpenter believes “we need to see work as a high calling. There’s no divide between sacred and secular.” All work, when done for the glory of God, is good work. “You just need to show up and live out the gospel through who you are by doing well in your craft, within your firm, and just building relationships,” Carpenter says. “It looks different depending on how God has called us.”

Instead of seeing our careers as an outflow of our identity in Christ, there is a temptation to centre work as the source of our identity.

Carpenter highlights the far-reaching costs of this unhealthy prioritizing of work. “The ultimate danger from my seat is the unhealthy connection to work and the rhythms in which people are running and are attached to their work, be it technologically, emotionally, or mentally. That creeps into so many aspects of our lives. It creeps up into our marriage, it creeps up into our relationship with our children and our parents, our health … we idolize work.”

Our culture’s fixation with productivity, achievement, and wealth-building has fostered an unhealthy reliance on what we do as the foundation of our self-worth. The pandemic has proven that our careers cannot fulfill our deepest longings for stability, identity, and meaning. If we offer our worship at the altar of our jobs, we are bound to walk away empty.

Pursuing new rhythms of work and rest have enabled Carpenter to navigate the pull towards an unhealthy connection with work. “I’m constantly trying to find new rhythms, and I actually stopped using the word ‘balance’ because I don’t think it’s achievable,” she says. “One day isn’t going to duplicate the next one. My busiest season is from October to December, so I know I have to take the first week of January off. It’s unfortunate that we don’t take that commandment of rest and actually hold each other to more of an account. So much comes out of whack if we’re not doing that.”

If the infinite God took time for rest, how much more do finite human beings need to follow His example? Rhythms of work and rest are one outflow of the core values that shape Carpenter’s boundaries. One of those core values is relationships. “I kind of use that as a litmus test. If a relationship is going to be hindered, then I’m probably not called to that next project or initiative.”

Defining success according to the health of our relationships frees us from the burdens of perfectionism and hyperproductivity. “I remember those early years in my 20s trying to be perfect, and it’s exhausting,” she says. “My greatest connecting point with others hasn’t been in any of my success and accolades. It’s been in sharing my brokenness, sharing a few things that haven’t worked. Instead of what I perceived as losing ground, I actually gained ground and credibility because people aren’t expecting us to be perfect. If you can demonstrate a spirit of tenacity, of resourcefulness, that’s what people are looking for.”

Carpenter’s words are good news for young adults anxious about establishing their careers in such uncertain times. She encourages young people to make connections with leaders in their desired fields of work and to tap into postsecondary resources such as alumni associations and career counselling. Work is far more meaningful within the context of community.

“There is space for everyone,” Carpenter says. “We need emerging leaders. We need the new ideas, concepts. We need the pushback from them. We need their desire to want to serve the community—and not just writing a cheque, but getting tangibly, hands-on dirty. We need that next generation. They belong.”