Ambition, Greed, and Humility in the Corner Office by David Nobles
The winner of Bette Lee Crosby's book What Matters Most, is Karen from Pennsylvania. Congratulations, Karen.
Readers can still read the interview with Julie Lessman and comment to be in the drawing for the book of your choice from all the books she has written. Go to the side bar, click on "Interview with Author Julie Lessman," and get your name in the drawing. Winner will be announced Monday, May 20.
Now here's today post, written by my son, David O. Nobles of Midland, TX.
I am a lawyer, and I just got a corner office. In case you don’t know much about lawyers, this is the Holy Grail. It is the raison d’etre. It is the icing on the cake, the gravy on top, the little something extra. It’s a big deal. It’s not the only big deal, but it’s a really, really big deal. A corner office is one that has windows on two walls and is at the intersection of two hallways. It’s not a corner if it’s just at the end of the hall. It’s like the cornerstone, and the occupant is one of the big dogs in the pack.
Ambition was part of the reason for becoming a lawyer. In high school, I was ambitious. I wanted to be somebody and I was willing to work to get there. I had never debated before my senior year, but I took a speech class and the teacher suggested it so I dove in, did the research, and won some tournaments. I enjoyed the school plays, being on stage and being the center of attention. I wasn’t a talented swimmer, but I was smart—so when I realized no one else wanted to put in the work to get strong enough to swim the long races, I grabbed the opportunity, trained hard, and had some success at the distance events. No colleges ever came calling, but I could hold my head up knowing I was making a solid contribution to the team
Being a lawyer just looked and sounded cool. There was the public perception (actually a myth) that lawyers always make big money, and I would get to debate and be the center of attention. I thought if I worked hard enough I just might find my niche where I could excel. Hello, ambition and greed.
There is nothing wrong with ambition. Ambition often has a bad connotation, but it’s not a bad thing. Ambition simply means wanting more. It’s good to want to be better at whatever you do. But when you combine ambition with greed…that’s where problems start. Greed is a bad thing. Greed means wanting more at the expense of someone else. Greed means wanting more just for me, selfishly. Unfortunately, all too often greed is the other side of the ambition coin and when I picked up ambition, I got greed as well. Greed tarnishes ambition, and that’s exactly what happened to me.
I did well academically in college so I got into the law school I wanted, then I managed to graduate and pass the bar exam on my first try. I got a job right out of school—not a high paying job, but I was a trying lawsuits and there was some real potential for growth. I was working hard, but I was also keeping an eye out for the next opportunity. Instead of just being where I was, I kept looking for the next rung on the ladder. Ambition and greed, baby. One day I found it, or so I thought. I ended up changing firms and it was a disaster. A year later I was back at my old firm, hat in hand, and they were nice about it but basically they said “Not interested.” I did find a landing spot, though, and I was determined to not make that mistake again. The good news was the entire experience helped me to finally become a good lawyer. I worked hard and got better. There was still one big hiccup to go and I moved firms one more time, but overall there was a pretty good upward trend from there.
As a first year lawyer, I began to learn the ropes. I quickly found out that the corner office was one of the real marks of prestige, of power, and of position. The big guys had ‘em and I didn’t. My first office had a single window, and it looked out onto a brick wall. I got some light but no view. At the next firm I had a choice of a small office with a window or a large interior office. A bigger office is better than a small one, I figured, since there was nothing ‘powerful’ about the available window office, so I took the big one. At the next stop I was just happy to be there, so I took what they gave me. For the first six weeks or so I was in the conference room. When the build-out was done I had a mid-sized office with big floor-to-ceiling windows and a nice view, with a large tree just outside. Others had better views but I was content. The firm moved, and my new spot was again a decent size with windows but they just looked at a parking lot then the back of another building.
This was when the ambition bug began to bite again. I was spending too much time with some other guys my age, and we all wanted the same things: prestige, power, position, and pay. We were convinced we all deserved more money, more responsibility, and well, just more. When someone else in my group got the next available corner office, I became discouraged and things started to fall apart. My attitude went south, cases shortly followed suit, and when clients started to notice, the writing was on the wall. Once again I landed on my feet and made a lateral move to a new firm and got an interior office, a pretty decent size, with windows facing inside to the atrium. It was a good office, technically a corner, but not really, since it was just at the end of the hall and only had one wall of windows.
I found my groove and did well. I brought in a new insurance company client with over 100 cases, and just when I initiated partnership talks…God changed the game. All this time, despite my ambition and greed, I was active in my local church. My wife and I had every ‘job’ you can have in adult Sunday School (small group Bible study) and we enjoyed all of them. The day of my partnership talk, I left town with some guys from church to go to Dallas for a ‘Promise Keepers’ event, a big stadium-based rally to encourage men to be faithful to God and their families. At this event, God spoke to me and said he wanted me to quit my job and become a minister.
Long story short, that’s exactly what I did. I became a single adult minister, and it was an amazing ride. I loved the people, the work, the challenge, and the opportunity to see God change lives. It wasn’t perfect, nothing ever is—it was still me working, so there were “hiccups”—but it was great.
On my first day at the church I was shown to my…corner office. It wasn’t a real corner with two walls of windows, but it enough of a corner that I had to just laugh, and I could hear God laughing too. “You happy now Dave?” he asked. I was, for a while, but the ambition bug wasn’t dead yet and I ended up at another church with a “better” job and once again found myself in a “corner” office. It was same story second verse though, as it was actually an interior office with windows on a hallway and only on one side. Still, once again I heard God laughing at me. “Do you get it yet Dave? It’s not about the office,” He said.
I had one more stop at another church, and never had a corner office but never cared. I had several offices there, and I think the ambition-greed one-two punch was finally gone. The pastor at that church talked a lot about the importance of humility, and I finally began to understand. It doesn’t matter what office you’re in. No, in fact, it is NOT about power, prestige, pay, or position. It is about serving, not getting. One of the stories Jesus told was about going to a banquet. He said when you are invited, don’t just assume you’re going to be at the head table. Instead, take a place in the back. If you take your place at the front, how embarrassing will it be when the host asks you to move? Instead, he said, take the place of humility and then when the host asks you to move UP you will be honored. All my life I had been looking for my place at the head table, and I finally realized the person I wanted to be was the waiter, not the big shot at the front of the room.
But, life is an interesting thing. Single adult ministry was changing dramatically across the country, and the changes came to my church too.After being there ten years I was facing some dramatic differences in job responsibilities. I was doing things I wasn’t passionate about. I explored different types of ministry in my church and in others, but nothing was working out. Finally, I asked God if it was time to go back to practicing law, and He said yes. I worried that I wouldn’t remember how, and that there was too much law to catch up on—but I made some calls and in nine days I was hired as corporate counsel at an oil and gas exploration company.
On the first day they showed me to my office, and it was, yes, a corner office, but not what you’re thinking. It was a tiny interior with no windows but two doors. It was a weird little space .They assured me they would find something better soon, and I told them I didn’t care. And I meant it. I hung up my diplomas and pictures and smiled at my new place.
I dove into the job head first and things have gone very well. My docket quickly dwindled from 15+ suits and 10+ claims to 5 suits and 3 claims. For a corporate lawyer, that’s a good thing. I got everything buttoned up and in order. After just six months I got a raise. The corporate aspect of the equation was harder, and I’m still trying to get my feet under me on that side of the job, but I am enjoying the challenge and I look forward to going to work every day. I feel like I am finally able to answer God’s question about the office, and ambition, and greed: “God, I’m fine right here. I don’t need a big office or a corner office. I don’t want to look for the next job and I am happy. In fact, you’ve blessed me so much, what I want to look for is how I can help somebody else.” So we found a new church and I signed up for a mission trip to El Salvador.
Then the other shoe dropped. The CEO called a big meeting and he said a build-out was about to start. They were going to take several larger offices, make them all a bit smaller and end up with more window offices. I looked at the plans and saw my extra door was to be removed. I had a flash of greed—Jones, in a corner office, was retiring, and I wondered what would happen to his office. I wondered if I would get a window. I had to tell myself “STOP! Go do your thing, Dave, and don’t worry about it. It’s not about the office, right?” A week or so later one of my colleagues came by and said “How ‘bout that new office you’re getting?” He showed me the plans, and I saw that I was penciled in for a corner office. A big one. With windows on two walls. With a great view of downtown. The real deal. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much—plans change quickly here, and I was determined to not let the bug get me again.
After another few weeks the CEO came by and made it official. “Nobles, when the construction is done, you’re moving to the corner office where Jones is now.” Then he walked away. I was too stunned to even say thank you. I did later, and part of the reason I didn’t say it at that moment was because the guy moves too fast. He said his piece and walked away, not waiting for a reply. That night it hit me: I am going to have a corner office. I’ve been angling for this since I was 25 and now I’m 53. Finally…
Over the years as a single adult minister I talked to lots of guys in their 30s and 40s who wanted to be married but things just never worked out for them. Some of them were trying so hard to get married they were chasing girls away—it was painful to watch. I tried to tell them, but they rarely listened, that they should stop looking for a wife and start looking for God. When they got there, they would find what is right for them. It wasn’t about marriage, I tried to tell them, it was about a relationship. The first relationship they needed to get right was the one with God. When that is working right, as the Bible says, he will give us the desires of our heart.
When I think about the corner office I’m about to move into I hear my voice echoing back to me: “Quit looking for (a corner office) and look for (humility). When you get there, God will give you what is right for you.”
Once again, I hear God laughing. “You happy now Dave?”
“I sure am. Thank you. You know this is all You, right?”
“Yeah, I do. Now just stay humble—we both know that’s a challenge for you—and things are going to be OK.”
Written by guest blogger, David O'Dell Nobles, whom I am proud to call my son.