Loving Work Transitions — For Pope Francis and the Rest of Us

6 ways for Pope Francis and the rest of us to address transitions in a new career

Pope Francis leaves the Sistine Chapel after being elected pope and shortly before appearing for the first time on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 13. The 76-year-old Jesuit became the first Latin American pope and will be installed March 19 as the leader of the world's more than 1 billion Catholics. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano) (March 15, 2013)
Pope Francis leaves the Sistine Chapel after being elected pope and shortly before appearing for the first time on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 13. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano) (March 15, 2013)

No cardinal ever says he wants to be the pope — and it’s not because of his humility. Being pope is a backbreaking, overwhelming task. The room where the new pope vests in the papal robes is called the “Room of Tears” for a reason!

Sometimes we’re all afraid of responsibility, and young adults know this all too well. From your first job to that first big promotion, responsibility on the job can be daunting and filled with daily pressures. And often, while the prospect of a new profession or promotion is exciting, transitions are tough.

So, here is some unsolicited advice from my new book, Loving Work, to help Pope Francis prayerfully make his way through the papal transition — and hopefully some Busted Halo readers as well.

  1. Reflect on the Past — When you are starting a new job or making a decision whether to move on from a current job, you ought to take a careful look at the daily duties of your last career. St. Ignatius of Loyola proposed practicing a Daily Examen. We look back on the day and try to remember the events as if we were watching a movie. Then, we need to note what really happened, not merely accept the way our own biases and insecurities might falsely inform us. We note where we really see ourselves coming alive, and where we feel flat and stagnant. What did we do well and what are our gifts? What did we struggle to do?

    Praying an extended Examen might reveal patterns. Such as, in the pope’s instance: “Every time I am engaging with the poor of the world, I really feel like I’m doing God’s work here on earth. I feel more alive and closer to God.” That might lead the pope to consider what trips he takes as pontiff, what topics his encyclicals cover, and which people in the world need his presence the most.

    Name something that makes you feel more alive, more authentically your best self. It might be training a new employee or writing a significant report for work. If coaching hockey or tutoring children tugs at you, it could lead to a decision to coach or tutor more often, or even to consider a career change. Pay attention to the stirring of your soul for it is there especially that you will find God.

  2. Research, Research, Research — You don’t have all the answers. Talk to others who work in areas that interest you. In considering a transition, ask yourself: Where would I most like to see myself working? Someone has that exact job or something close to it. Find her or him and ask what they love about the job and more importantly what they dislike about it.

    When I covered Major League Baseball, I began to find the job wanting and tiresome. I longed to do play-by-play for a major sports team, but after talking with three broadcasters for professional teams, I realized that we hated the same things about our jobs (bureaucracy, high pressure and arrogant athletes). Knowing I would find the same frustrations in top-level positions made it easy for me to decide to transition into a new line of work. Conversely, I found that in ministry people were excited about things that also excited me.

  3. Use the Theological Virtues — In transitions, some good questions to ask are centered on the theological virtues of faith, hope and love:

    • Does this change make me more faithful to the calling to be the person God has made me to be?
    • Does this change make me more hopeful about my future, my prospects for success, my plans to see God’s kingdom on earth?
    • Does this change make me more loving — giving of myself to others — so this is not all about me but instead links my heart’s great desire with the needs of those around me?

    Pope Francis might ask the same questions about his own transition: How am I more centered on these virtues for the good of the Church? Will my decisions bring more faithfulness, hopefulness, and love to the world?

  4. Break the Silence — Often when we find ourselves overwhelmed, we don’t share that information with anyone. Why? Because work is all about competence, so we don’t want to show our vulnerable side on the job. But keeping silent is the worst thing we can do. Everyone needs a mentor, a trusted individual with whom they can confide and share all that is going on in their lives. It is highly recommended that this person not be a co-worker. Rather, someone who is outside of your job, but can relate to or understand your career path. A good confidant might be a therapist, spiritual director or pastoral counselor.

    Imagine being Pope Francis’ spiritual director! I’m sure each pope has had one, and it must be pretty amazing to accompany the Holy Father on his spiritual journey, especially during this time in his life! Who can the pope rely on when the Church has gone through a day of being broken and battered? It is important in the early days of his papacy for the pope to make sure someone is in that role.

  5. Pray — In prayer, first we should find gratitude for our work, especially when many are unemployed. Second, we should remember that while the stress of transitions is difficult to bear, there are people who experience transition every day — the poor often have to figure out where they will sleep, how they can find money and food, and who they can really trust. To help us remember this in our prayer…

  6. Experience Poverty — No matter how stressful transitions are, find some time to give to the poor. You will find both gratitude and empathy in helping others. This is the place where you can intentionally look for God, especially if you are having a hard time seeing God’s grace in the office from 9 to 5.

For our new pope, reminding himself of the poor will be especially important. And I pray Pope Francis’ remembering of the poor will turn into action that directs his papacy. We hunger for God, to be sure, but we also know of people who hunger for food and water. May Pope Francis be able to stand in solidarity with the poor and remind all of us what is truly important in our lives — to see where God is calling us to serve.