Tag Archives: service

An attitude of abundance

The other day I was sitting with a new colleague talking about the competitiveness and anxiety that fills the air this time of the year, especially for those of us who are “on the job market” in academia.  I found myself urging him to adopt a mentality of abundance, rather than one of scarcity, and he was pleasantly shocked by the advice.

I’ve heard others talk about attitudes of abundance before, but I never knew quite what they meant by them and wondered if such mentalities weren’t just convenient excuses to escape from reality.  But as this colleague and I talked more and more and I reflected on my experience these last seven years (!) pursuing a Ph.D., it occurred to me that the generous and treasured relationship I have with my own cohort of budding anthropologists is one of abundance.

Since early on we have endeavored to build one another up when other cohorts around us succumb to insidious competitiveness and one-up-man-ship. We have believed that we’re not really competing for the same jobs, because it’s all about fit–what would work for me necessarily wouldn’t work for many in my cohort and in vice versa.  On the flip side, many academics ascribe to an economy of scarcity in which there aren’t enough jobs to go around and one must fight tooth and nail, whatever the cost, to wrest them from the hands of others, even if they’re valued friends and colleagues.

Lantau Island, Hong Kong.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Lantau Island, Hong Kong. Photo by Evan Schneider.

“But isn’t that reality?” my new friend asked me. “At some point don’t you have to admit that there actually are less jobs out there than there are people and accept that reality?”

But is that reality?  Might the reality be that there if there are but a small number of “good” tenure-track jobs, those jobs probably aren’t a great fit for most people, because there are also a lot of wonderful babies to be had, which require time off, there’s wonderful family to enjoy in life and they’re not always next to the “good” jobs, there’s wonderful students in many, many, places, there’s other great career tracks that lead outside of academia, and suddenly there aren’t so many people clamoring for the same jobs and they don’t look so “good” anymore?

This type of abundance isn’t illogical or idealistic but very practical.  When we sacrifice what we truly  want or need to what the world tells us, we end up with scarcity, but when we pursue our career with a passion for serving others, the opportunities abound.  What’s more, it is actually possible to rejoice when others succeed, rather than just in one’s own successes. It not only makes us better people to be able to enjoy the success of others, but it makes for a better world! Finally, I think that’s what’s often getting edited out of these grand discussions on academic job markets–that teaching is a service vocation, that when it comes down to it, it’s not even about us and what job we want, but what job we can use to reach the students who make our jobs necessary and possible.

The view from Lantau Island, HK.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The view from Lantau Island, HK. Photo by Evan Schneider.

My new friend stared blankly at me and commented that it was refreshing to find someone with this kind of attitude, but talking about this kind of abundance with him was also rejuvenating for me.  It reminded me why I do what I do, that numbers and markets are not so straight forward and they don’t have to rule my life, and that everyday is a choice.  Everyday we choose whether to live in a world of abundance or one of scarcity.

Today, I choose abundance.  What about you?

p.s. For more on where this abundance comes from, see my post on the God of Abundance!



A concept that came up in the passage I posted the other day, Philippians 2, is that of being emptied, as Christ “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”  This is a concept that many who practice contemplative prayer identify with, and many cite the way Jesus himself needed to be emptied in the wilderness before he was ready to serve.

I’ve always struggled a bit with this idea of being empty, given that we are also made in the image of God, and therefore, what do we really need to be emptied of in order to know God more fully?

Richard Rohr, in his book Simplicity says that we need to empty our thoughts, feelings, and self-image to discover who we are to be in Christ, in order that we might be “tethered to the center,” and live fully.  Rohr encourages us to “imagine a river or a stream.  You’re sitting on the bank of this river, where boats and ships are sailing past.  While the stream flows past your inner eye, I ask you to name each one of these vessels.  For example, one of the boats could be called ‘my anxiety about tomorrow.’  Or along comes the ship ‘objections to my husband,’ or the boat, ‘Oh, I don’t do that well.’  Every judgment that you pass is one of those boats.  Take the time to give each one of them a name, and then let it move on.”

Rohr continues,

For some people this is a very difficult exercise, because we’re used to jumping aboard the boats immediately.  As soon as we own a boat, and identify with it, it picks up energy.  But what we have to practice is un-posessing, letting go…Some of the boats that are accustomed to our jumping aboard them immediately think we just didn’t see them the first time.  That’s why they head back upstream and return…

Some of you will feel the need to torpedo your boats.  But don’t attack them: this is also an exercise in nonviolence.  You aren’t allowed to hate your soul.  The point is to recognize things and to say, ‘That’s not necessary; I don’t need that.’  But do it very amiably.  If we learn to handle our own souls tenderly and lovingly, then we’ll be able to carry this same loving wisdom into the world outside.

I tried sitting beside the stream last night and watching the boats go by.  It was amazing how the boats blipped onto my radar registering my inadequacies, self-doubt, and fears, and it was also freeing to watch them sail by, to release them, and in so doing, release myself from their pull.

Rohr says this is the practice of cultivating both a deep commitment to the world and to self-compassion and peace that passes all understanding.  As Rohr puts it, “You don’t need to win anymore; you just need to do what you need to do, as simplistic and naive as that might sound.  That’s why Augustine could make such an outrageous statement as ‘love God and do what you want!'”

I think about how many times I question who I am in Christ rather than boldly living in the reality of God’s awesome grace, simply, purely, and intentionally.  I think this is the power of contemplation, of going boating, in that it draws us toward that emptiness so we can experience the fullness, go out and love God and serve however we feel called.