How do we flourish in the 21st century workplace?

Max Jeganathan // November 14, 2018, 4:13 pm

fulfilment workplace rzim asia-pacific

Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash.

The opening scene of the timeless family film Madagascar depicts the exuberant zebra, Marty, having an identity crisis.

Marty – along with his three friends, Gloria the hippopotamus, Melman the giraffe and Alex the lion – wants more from his life. He wants to flourish.

And for him, his job as the token zebra in the New York Central Park Zoo isn’t providing the kind of flourishing that his heart longs for.

Marty’s predicament is not difficult to identify with.

The longing for a life of flourishing is ubiquitous to the human heart. 

Though we may define “flourishing” in slightly different ways, the longing for a life of flourishing is ubiquitous to the human heart.

And the workplace is where many of us turn in order to find it.

But what is “flourishing”?

It is a question that humankind has debated for millennia, and one that I certainly don’t purport to satisfy here. However, there are some things we can reasonably say about flourishing.

The parallels between Marty’s struggles and our own reveal at least three central components to flourishing:

  • Finding belonging
  • Finding significance
  • Finding purpose

While we differ on how we define each of these, in some way we are all trying to fit in, to have our achievements recognised and to find and fulfil our purpose.

The problem is that when we try and do it on our own, we inevitably run into trouble.

Three pillars

The prevailing secularist narrative leads people to reject God and look inside themselves to find answers to all three pillars of flourishing.

We are urged to find our tribe to which to belong, to achieve in order to gain significance and to self-discover in order to find our purpose.

When we reject God, we must bear the burden of our own flourishing.

Ultimately, it’s all up to us and it usually plays out in our workplace.

The problem, of course, is that such an approach does not work.

Those of us who centre our lives exclusively on work are left exhausted, despondent, unfulfilled or a combination of all three.

The evidence is conclusive. Thanks to communications technology, we are the most interconnected we have ever been but we are the loneliest we have ever been.

We work hard to build homes, bank accounts and identities for ourselves but we still struggle for significance.

We look inside ourselves for answers yet all we find are more questions.

The answer is clear.

When we reject God, we must bear the burden of our own flourishing. As a result we are forced to anchor our sense of belonging, our significance and our purpose to two things that are intrinsically unreliable: Our own efforts at work and the volatility of man-made cultural, political, economic, social and moral systems.

Divinely endowed 

Our individual and collective experience reveals a ground-breaking truth – that belonging must be transcendentally anchored, significance must be eternally grounded and purpose must be divinely endowed.

When we consider these three truths, the Christian message comes roaring to life.

The message of Jesus Christ is the only way through which forgiveness, significance and divine purpose are offered freely alongside adoption into the eternal family of God.

Through Him, we are promised eternal belonging, enduring identity and divinely endowed purpose.

The fact that this unique offer of relationship comes freely through unconditional grace, simply adds an experiential cherry to the existential sundae.

As Marty the zebra himself discovers, true flourishing doesn’t come from within, it comes from without, and it is anchored not in effort but in relationship.

We all have that unconditional offer of a loving relationship with our Creator God through the person of Jesus Christ. Through Him, we are promised eternal belonging, enduring identity and divinely endowed purpose.

That purpose – to be in loving relationship with God himself – is what so often alludes us amidst the haze of our failed self-actualisation.

It is this divinely endowed purpose that the great thinker and writer St Augustine referred to when he so powerfully wrote: “O’God, you made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

Like Marty, perhaps we need to make peace with the reality that we cannot ultimately control our environment or our circumstances – at work or anywhere else.

However, we have the incredible offer of flourishing through a relationship with God amidst the volatility of a broken world.

God himself came into the world – as Jesus Christ – to die on a cross for you, to give you the forgiveness you don’t deserve, the relationship you so deeply yearn for and the flourishing your heart seeks after.

As you approach the challenges, successes and opportunities at work that 2019 brings, remember: The key to flourishing in the 21st century workplace begins by understanding that true flourishing cannot be achieved in the 21st century workplace.

Our only hope for true flourishing is through relationship with Jesus Christ.

Once we step into this relationship, we are freed to embrace challenges, enjoy successes and endure failures at work, secure in the assurance that our belonging, significance and purpose are anchored in the loving heart of God.

What is the key to true contentment? RZIM's Max Jeganathan tells Salt&Light.

This article is based on a Ravi Zacharias International Ministries marketplace talk that was delivered on November 9, 2018, in TPI Building, Tanjong Pagar, Singapore.

In a post-event interview with Salt&Light, Jeganathan explained why love is the key to finding true contentment in life: 

Why is having a loving relationship with God the answer to finding fulfilment?

Jeganathan: I think it’s just the way God has built us, in that we are wired for relationships, and we are built such that love is the supreme ethic. You don’t have to do much convincing outside the kingdom of God to get non-Christians to agree that love is a good thing. So the question becomes: Where is love most perfectly manifested? Love is by far the most perfectly manifested in the person of Jesus Christ and what He did on the Cross. Because at the heart of true love is sacrifice.

Should a desire to flourish be our ultimate purpose in life?

Jeganathan: I believe that our ultimate purpose is to be in a loving relationship with God, and to be in a loving relationship with each other. Those are the two reasons for which we were created, and where significance and meaning and belonging come from. If we are doing it with the one true God, a whole lot of by products happen that get thrown in. They include: Fulfilment, peace, security, joy, satisfaction and contentment.

How do we explain fulfilment to our non-Christian colleagues without seeming out of touch?

Jeganathan: I think the most important thing is to start from where they are, to build authentic relationships. Don’t think of your friends and colleagues as evangelistic projects. The best and most powerful way to share Jesus is through friendship, through relationships that happen over many decades, not just many months.

And live your faith out. Be proud of who you are in Jesus Christ. Share what he’s done in your life. And only then be prepared and willing to come alongside to help them with questions they might have.

About the author

Max Jeganathan

Max is the regional director for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Asia-Pacific. He was educated at the Australian National University and the University of Oxford. Max is passionate about the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to transform lives. His research interests relate to the relationships between faith, politics, business, economics and moral reasoning. He moved to Singapore with his wife, Fiona, and son, Zachary, in 2017.