More than a Cog in the Machine
This is the 3rd Interview for A Series of Stories Exploring Black and Brown Perspectives on Work and its Worth.
When Ricardo tells me, “I don’t need a pulpit at work because everywhere is the pulpit,” I’m inclined to believe him. He’s the only person I know that can use chicken and the gospel in a sentence that makes sense. Okay, maybe not the only person, but this is exactly what happened the day I met him.
I’ve always known him to be a people person. He doesn’t just talk about the gospel but he is genuinely interested in people’s lives and their well-being. I’ve seen this care be an even more compelling witness.
Q: When you think of work, what comes to mind?
RICARDO: I think of earned income; needing money to provide for my family and purchase things but I primarily think of work as an opportunity for influence or impact for the Kingdom. I’m thankful that most of the roles I’ve worked in allowed me to interact with people from many different walks of life.
Q: How have you navigated being a believer at work?
RICARDO: Being a believer in the workplace will always be a challenge. I have to use wisdom in the way that I speak about Christ. I realize that God has gifted me with the ability to reach people by way of my personality and approach. I’m always open to having conversations that lead to more conversations. At other times, even though I may not open a bible or take someone out to coffee, they’ll see Christ in the way that I operate and that may give me opportunities in the future. One of the things that I live by is that even if someone doesn’t want to believe, at least they know someone who does.
Q: Early 2018 through early 2019 was a fairly tumultuous year for you. Could you tell me a little bit about it?
RICARDO: Let’s dub that the year of the mountains and valleys.
I was working at a company for eight and a half years. I’d been there since it started. The parent company was offering buy-out packages and I accepted one. This was early April 2018. Around the same time, my wife told me she was pregnant. I was like, “Praise God but like, I don’t have a job.” By God’s grace, I was able to start a different position at another company by the end of that month.
By early August 2018, they let me go. To be honest, the management structure wasn’t a good fit and thankfully by September 2018, I landed a position at a brand agency. By December 2018, the specific project I was doing was being phased out by the client and I was out of work again.
Around the same time, my wife was in the hospital for a while. During that time, none of us were working. We lived off our savings and we still had to pay our bills. During that time as well as when my little one was born, both my grandma and cousin passed away within days of each other. It was a hard year. I’m sure that I applied to close to 200 jobs. I landed my current position after a lengthy interview process in March 2019.
Q: What kind of work do you do now? What does it involve?
RICARDO: I’m a Customer Experience Manager for Airport Operations for an airline. I work at an airport, and there is always something happening. It involves a lot of coordinating: with staff, serving customers, maintaining excellence, dealing with special items, security and police, U.S. and Canada customs and border, flight connections, baggage among other things. There is always something happening. Every decision I make has an impact on others.
Q: What are some struggles or issues you’ve dealt with throughout your time working?
RICARDO: The first, I would say is the ambiguity in some of the roles I’ve worked in. I was often the first to work in that role so there was no template to follow. I would say that God’s given me the self-driven desire to take something that lacked direction and help it make sense. I’ve also had to learn many of those lessons without a mentor.
Another I would say is identity: not allowing work to dictate who I am. For instance, choosing to be myself in the role that corporate hired me for versus operating in the specific way that corporate wants me to portray. There is always the pressure to fall in line with corporate politics and ways of communication. I don’t want to simply react like another cog in the machine. I try to intentionally choose the right and helpful thing, over just making people happy. Sometimes it’s easy to cave in but I try to be intentional about doing what is right, even when it might cost me.
The third I would say is, as a Black man, depending on the organization you work for, people are not used to seeing Black people in positions of influence. You may be passed over for certain opportunities. In one experience, I was told by a Director at a company I previously worked to withdraw my application, even though I had all the qualifications and had an interview lined up. Sometimes, you would like to move up to have more impact but you realize that it’s just about being an extension of your boss, rather than what the role should actually be accomplishing.
Situations like this and feeling like you can’t be yourself have a dampening effect on the desire to move up. You realize the more you move up, the less and less of yourself you see. In all of that, I’ve committed to being who I am because my goal is to represent Christ, regardless of the capacity I’m working in.
What is our primary purpose for work? Do we view work as an opportunity for impact or influence for the Kingdom? Is work an opportunity for self-actualization? Or a little bit of both? Ricardo is right to say that being a believer at work is challenging. Whatever work you do comes with its own unique challenges.
And let’s be honest, we absolutely need the wisdom of God. Our world is tumultuous as is. We are regularly pushed by tricky situations and conflicting feelings to consider how, we as believers should personally react to success, conflict, uncertainty, tragedy, change, unease, injustice, and disappointment. Feel free to insert your own.
In our work, we have a real opportunity to bear witness to God, in something he created us to do, not only to provide for ourselves (Eccl. 11:4, 6) but have conversations that lead to more conversations. These discussions shouldn’t only be for talking with non-believers about God. They should also serve as opportunities to comfort, challenge, remind and encourage each other to keep focused on the most important matter (Eccl. 12:13-14). Sometimes we need those too.