Bringing the “Why” to Work: 3 Lessons in Finding Purpose in the Professional Life

YCP Austin welcomed Dr. Nancy Schreiber, Dean of The Bill Munday School of Business at St. Edward’s University, as our Executive Speaker on June 9th. Her talk focused on finding purpose in the professional life, something that resonates well with young Catholic professionals who understand their obligation to work in witness for Christ.

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Dr. Schreiber at St. Edward’s U

In the words of Mark Twain, “the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” As Catholics, we may know the “why” of our lives, but many of us may struggle with how to bring that “why” with us in the workplace. We all have a calling for purpose that leads us to live in the footsteps of Christ. So how do we bring this call to our work?

Dr. Schreiber shared, “My professional journey has not been linear, predictable or planned, and yours likely won’t be either, but what should be consistent is your sense of purpose.” She best described her professional journey with the Yiddish expression, “Man plans and God laughs.”

I’m sure many of us can relate to Dr. Schreiber’s twisted path that led her to where she is today. Sometimes it may seem that God is laughing at our plans, and leave no clear vision ahead for either our careers or personal lives. But as Dr. Schreiber reflected, “through the many years of professional trial and error, I have come to accept that despite what was going on at the time…I was where I needed to be at that moment.” Taking a step back and looking beyond the current anxiety, the momentary discouragement, will help us to ultimately appreciate the greater plan that God has in store for each one of us. It’s important to use each moment as opportunities to grow in our knowledge and skills so that we can take our struggles, challenges and accomplishments with us as we launch forward.

Here are 3 lessons and action items that Dr. Schreiber shared with Young Catholic Professionals as we strive to find our purpose in the professional life:

Lesson 1: View your work as a temporary series of projects that allow you to build your tool kit for the next project. The more intentional we are about connecting our Catholic faith to our career mission, the more potential we have to developing knowledge and skills that will propel us to new career opportunities with a greater sense of purpose, knowing we are working for something greater than ourselves. In the words of Dr. Schreiber, “a flourishing career is one that is derived from a growth mindset and we can only develop that when we are open, curious, and willing to give in a Christ-like manner.”

Action Item 1: Take a weekly inventory of how you act as a witness for Christ in or outside of the workplace. What tangible knowledge and skills have you developed as a result?  Are there talents gaps you see that can be bridged by greater service to others? When you are open to integrating your Catholic values with your work you can transform yourself and others in the process. The best way to do that is to show people your values, and you may never have to say a word.

Lesson 2: Learn to laugh with God when He laughs at your plans. This can show up in many forms, so be open to looking at things as laughter, not failure, from God. Accept the heartaches and stresses of your career and life as they unfold, and learn to reframe these challenges as you let yourself be guided by the Spirit. You may never understand why something did or didn’t happen, but have the faith and discernment to lead you to a new path. Learn to let go, and keep on growing.

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Nancy on the Butler Trail in Austin

Action Item 2: Have a “Fitbit for the Soul.” In other words, keep track of how your spiritual life so you are always growing closer to Christ and staying on track with your purpose throughout your day. Dr. Schreiber recommends 3 activities that she would track with her own “Fitbit”:

  1. Noon Mass – Dr. Schreiber recommends going as often as you can make it – it helps her “pause for purpose” in the middle of the crazy workday. Can you find time to ground yourself and put yourself in the presence of God in the midst of the work day?
  2. Surround yourself with peace and prayer when possible. How can you do that? Dr. Schreiber suggests listening to sacred music, which can be a form of prayer. She says, “I often start my day with a quadruple espresso and some sacred music. It gets me physically and spiritually amped up!”
  3. Spiritual reading – read some of this before a tough meeting. It will help you feel spiritually armed when things go south, and help you to see things with a supernatural perspective.

Lesson 3: Austin is a great place to be a Catholic. As a city, it incubates Catholic thought in action. Really?! — Austin?! Despite many sentiments, Austin is deeply rooted in Catholic values such as service and social justice. As Catholics, we have many opportunities to put our faith into action. The Austin business scene even incorporates these ideas into their missions.

As our city becomes more and more successful, we unfortunately see the number of marginalized citizens increase, as Austin becomes one of the most economically segregated cities in the country. Many Austin employers will welcome our calls to Christ (they just won’t call it that) as it allows us to work and serve others in a way that Christ would.

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Nancy and her husband

Action Item 3: How are you bringing your “mission to the marketplace?” Set small goals, and select two to implement at work that directly links to your organization’s culture and mission, as well as your call as a Catholic. Take advantage of your time in Austin to put your call to work in witness for Christ into action.


Don’t be afraid to bring your mission to the marketplace!

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