Writing an article concerning choosing a life’s vocation has given me opportunity to pause and reflect. I reflect upon God’s guidance every step of the way and how God’s Holy Spirit is used in my life. I can identify how God used others to instruct me, to shape me, to guide me, and it is some of these experiences that I would like to share with you, hopefully to stimulate your thinking as you consider your life’s vocation.
I begin by recognizing I have been extremely blessed. One of the richest blessings God gave to me was my parents. As kids we did not grow up with anything beyond our daily needs. My parents did not have what I would say were “extras.” Even though we were not wealthy, I can say that I was raised in one of the richest families in the world, far beyond the measurement of money or wealth, because of the values they instilled in us kids.
We were taught the value of faith and how we do all things to the honor and glory of God, seeking first the kingdom of God. Our parents taught us the value of stewardship in not only giving first to the kingdom causes, but also the responsibility of stewardship of our time, our energy, and of our talent. By their example, they taught us how to work, and how you do the jobs you do not like as well as the jobs you like. This has always served me well in my career. I knew that it would not be very hard to outthink me, but I also believed that no one could outwork me. It pains me today to witness so many people who are very competent and have a high degree of intellect, yet refuse to work hard. In most instances hard work will get you noticed and can be used to accelerate your intellect. But smarts cannot replace hard work.
When reflecting on my high school years, I must confess I did not spend much time thinking about my vocation.The more I thought about it, the more confused, frustrated, and intimidated I became. The nmore these feelings increased, the more they shut me down. I would default into convincing myself that I would worry about a career another day, which led to inaction on my part. This confusion and frustration would only build as I grew older.
I was confused because I had grown up working in a farming community, and because I didn’t explore other opportunities by using all the many resources that were available to help me research and wrestle with in order to increase my understanding. Farming was all I knew. For example, I used to think an engineer was a train driver; today I have five different types of engineering disciplines working at Royal Technologies and none of them drives a train.
It was intimidating when people would ask me if I was going to college. I would always say, “I don’t know.” I always feared their second question which was “what for?”, because I knew I didn’t have an answer. I remember one time a teacher said to me, “Jim, not many people know what’s going on in this world, but you, you don’t even have a clue what’s going on.” I never forgot that, and even though I would never suggest you use that statement, she was right. My frustration had been building because my attitude led me to do nothing about it and I would default into responses of “I don’t know,” which also allowed me improperly to blame others for my predicament.
Given the opportunity to do it over again, I would change my attitude and behavior. I should have accepted the reality that it was OK for me not to know precisely what my vocation was going to be. With the attitude of a teachable spirit I would share and consult with others whom I respected. I would consult with parents, my pastor, some of my educators, people whom I admire in my church community and in the work community. I would ask to visit their place of employment, exploring and learning all the different aspects and requirements. A teachable spirit means you should not be defensive, but encourage feedback, critique and constructive criticism to help you grow. Yes, that even means you are open and vulnerable. I believe that listening and having this type of exposure would have increased my understanding, shaped my thinking, helped define a direction, and developed a process that would have helped me set into motion a strategy of selecting my vocation. It never ceases to amaze me when I consider that everything I know or do, I learned from someone else. Realizing that only God knows what the future had in store for me I would have more fervently gone to him in prayer, asking for grace, wisdom, and guidance, according to the example of Samuel. God demands of us to use our talents, and that requires prayerful consideration that must stimulate us into action. Don’t fall into the trap of “I don’t know,” which leads to inaction and produces a low self-esteem.
Like many others after high school I followed my father’s vocation. He got me a job at his place of work. It was there that I would spend the next fifteen years of my life. It was there that I was introduced to many different types of manufacturing and processes. They taught me how to make things and how to put those things together really well. During this time I attended some college classes and seminars, but to my disappointment even yet today, I never continued formal education.
I became very comfortable working for this company. Not only did they teach me how to use my hands, but they also taught me how to use my mind. They had a great leadership development program and I would like to think that because of my attitude, my character, and my performance they subjected me to this program for four years. I was blessed to have leadership at this place of business that exemplified good role models. It was this leadership development program that in addition to values, taught me the skill sets required for leadership, which helped me in having my own business today.
Upon reflecting, although I didn’t go to college because I used the excuse that I didn’t know what I would study, I wish today I had pursued it. My unwillingness to sacrifice time and energy to continue my education has placed obstacles and even some roadblocks that stifled my advancement and placed restrictions on me even today that I wish did not exist.
In 1987, having spent several years of consulting and strategizing, I started a business in a ten thousand square foot building with two machines and called it Royal Technologies. With unmatched energy, I began my journey full of excitement and enthusiasm, which quickly identified my naiveté and even made me fearful. I had to do things that I had never done before. I worked with a bank to convince them to lend me money by articulating a business plan. I had to search for customers and try to convince them why they should purchase from a brand new start-up company. I had to build stuff I had never built before, collect money people owed, and pay bills, hoping at the end there was a little left over so I could pay myself. I even remember calling my dear wife at home to solicit her help by buckling five little kids into a car and chasing around town to become my pick-up and delivery service.
Today Royal Technologies has grown into an advanced engineering and manufacturing company serving industries as diverse as automotive, furniture, and consumer products. Our products range from simple components to highly sophisticated finished goods for customers across the country and around the globe.
We have six facilities totaling over 1.2 million square feet located in Hudsonville, Michigan, Cullman, Alabama, and Mission, Texas with around one thousand employees. In 1987 I was not able to run a company of this size, but because God has blessed me and because I was able to grow with it, there are many things I have learned along the way. I learned in short order all the varied responsibilities that come with ownership, and that the bigger the company becomes, the more your responsibilities grow. It is true that you hire competent and capable people to assist you with these responsibilities, but at the end of the day the responsibility still lies with you. Very seldom do I have any two days that mirror one another. It is incumbent upon me to articulate the vision and strategies of the company for the next three-five-eight years to assure that we are executing and making adjustments in order to assure our long term sustainability. I try to keep well versed on the economic climate not only in West Michigan or North America, but in Europe and Asia as well. With thirty-five percent of our products being shipped to these global locations, a change in the economic climate can have a dramatic impact on our organization, and we have to adjust accordingly. There are weekly and monthly scheduled meetings for each function of the company. There we go over the key measurements and discuss our strategies going forward. Because I never want to separate myself from my employees, this demands I travel often to our facilities in Alabama and Texas. I am constantly barraged with all the creative ways people come up with both internally and externally to get in contact with me for one reason or another. I have to make customer and supplier visits, meet with economic and governmental people to solicit their help in achieving some of our objectives. There are capital expenditure requests that need my approval. The list goes on and on.
The largest area of my responsibility is also my biggest challenge and where I spend the majority of my time. That is in the area of growth and development of people. As the business world continues to change, our job requirements and competencies must also change. That is not the growth I am referring to now. I am referring to growth in character that manifests itself in our understanding, embracing, and promoting our corporate values. As a Christian and as a Christian business owner I have values. I must make sure that by my speech, by my example, and by my actions I model Christian values. As our company grows I need to nurture and cultivate this culture. I spend more time explaining the “why and how” we do things versus the “what” it is we do. I always say that operationally we will change every day, but we may never fracture or change our Christian values.
I always knew that with ownership comes responsibility, but I am continuing to learn a whole new level of responsibility as the company grows. Today I have many of the same challenges, obstacles, disappointments, frustrations, opportunities, and rewards I had when I started as a one-man shop, but they are much larger and have bigger consequences attached to them. My daily prayer is that God continues to give me and this company the strength, the courage, the wisdom that enables us to glorify his name.
In summary, this has been a brief overview of a few things that influenced me and some of the lessons I learned in my life’s vocation thus far. I will conclude by offering a few thoughts you might find helpful in your consideration of a vocation.
First, we have been blessed by God in that we were raised in a God-fearing home, instructed by God-fearing pastors and teachers, all of whom have encouraged us to work in accordance with God’s will and for the glory of his name. When selecting a vocation, think of one that allows you to adhere to your Christian values, and prayerfully ask for God’s direction in your life.
Second, I understand that continuing your education after high school is not for everyone, but seriously consider it. Its importance might not be apparent to you today, but do not let that determine your decision. Prayerfully consider it. A lack of education in today’s world can be an obstacle in your future.
Third, reach out to others in many different vocations for their good counsel to assist you in your understanding of what different jobs entail and require, and what job best fits your desires. To that end should you desire to learn more about the different elements of the business world or job requirements, I would be more than willing to meet or set something up with you.
Fourth, apply yourself. Take the initiative and work hard. God has given each of us talents, time, and energy, and we must use them to the fullest.