Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour

Ep. #27. Working with Purpose at 89 with David Balfour

August 03, 2022 Jean Balfour Season 1 Episode 27
Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour
Ep. #27. Working with Purpose at 89 with David Balfour
Show Notes Transcript

Jean’s guest on the podcast is David Balfour - her father. 

At 89 David is still working as an Anglican priest in the Church of Scotland. 

David has spent nearly all of his career as an ordained priest in the Anglican church. He grew up in the UK, India and Myanmar/Burma and then emigrated to New Zealand when he was 21 working for the Bank of New Zealand. Then when he was 29 he was ordained in the church. David then worked as a vicar in New Zealand for 46 years before his first retirement. The 2nd still hasn’t happened, and he moved to the UK in 2002 and from 2007 picked up clergy work again.

David shares, towards the end, his 3 main lessons from a long career. 

  • Remain true to yourself 
  • It’s okay to fail
  • It’s okay to be a success

In their conversation they talk about his long career and what he learnt about leadership, teams and how he sees the idea of retirement. 

You can get in touch with David via Jean.

You can find Jean here:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeanbalfour/

Instagram

https://www.instagram.com/jean.balfour/


Jean:

Hi everyone. And welcome to making sense of work. I'm Jean Balfour. And today my guest is a special guest. His name is David Balfour and I guess that I mostly call him Dad. So welcome Dad to the podcast today.

David:

Well, it's very nice to be here. A surprise to be asked and a delight to see you and talk to you.

Jean:

I think we're gonna have a lot of fun. I think many of my working habits I've, I either inherited or learnt as observed by you. So I'm kind of curious for us to talk about those today. She'll be good. Right. Let me tell you a bit about David. David has spent nearly all of his career as an ordained priest in the Anglican church. He grew up in the UK, India, and me and ma or Burma as it was then, and then immigrated to New Zealand when he was 21, working for the bank of New Zealand. Knowing what I know now about him, I find banking a surprising career choice, but then. When he was in his mid twenties, he trained as a priest and was ordained in the church when he was 29. He then worked as a vicar in New Zealand for 46 years before his first retirement. The second version of retirement still hasn't actually happened and in 2002, he and mom moved to the UK and from 2007, both of them picked up clergy work again. So dad, let's just start with you are 89 years old and you're pretty much still working. How much work or services have you done in the last few weeks?

David:

Well, I've taken three services in different places. And I have gained a new person to be anam cara for that person. That's a soul guide Yeah, so I still, still a bit coming my way. Yeah. still working, still working, keeps me off the streets and outta the pubs.

Jean:

that's good. I don't think it keeps you off the whiskey,

David:

no, no, no, no.

Jean:

So I always ask this question on the podcast. How's work at the moment?

David:

Different in a way, because I don't have responsibility for a parish. So I go in as somebody who comes in from outside though in our local congregation where we normally worship, uh, it's different. I'm seen as a friend when I go there. So I don't have any of the responsibilities that go with being, the vicar of a parish. So I come in, do my thing and then go and have coffee with everybody else. So in one sense, it's easy in another sense, when you're going into a strange parish where you don't know the people it's much harder. Mm-hmm Sunday before last, I went to a parish, in NIC, and I hadn't been there for maybe four years. And you have to find your way around and the way they do things you don't want to come in and not do something different, but it's. It, it keeps me alive. Yeah, I love it.

Jean:

Great. I know you love it. It's great. I guess this question would've been different at different stages of your life, but when you have a good day when you are working now, what's that like for you?

David:

Affirming?, what most people don't realize is that I'm not actually. I'm always looking for affirmation. You know, I'm not, not one of those people who really has it all together and, and, and that's partly history and all the rest of it., but when I've done a good job, it feels great. Especially when you've been able to open somebody up to something new, help them to grow a bit. Cuz that's always my aim., when I'm taking a service. The thing I should explain about taking a service is you're there to open a space where people encounter God, not you. That that's the most important part of the thing. And so you have to work at getting ego out of the way and being present yourself to God. Um, and that's a privilege. That's a massive privilege. It's not a job. It's a privilege.

Jean:

It's lovely because I was just thinking about the connection to the work I do, which is mostly coaching and teaching coaching. And how in that work, we also teach the same thing that if we don't take our egos out of the equation, there's not space for the other person. Because so much of our personal growth is. Our journey and the coach is a guide and a companion along the way. Really? So there's such a connection there. So you've had a long career. Can you tell us briefly a little bit about your career journey?

David:

Yes. I really didn't know what I wanted to do when I left school. And my guardian my aunt was a chief buyer for marks and Spencers, and I thought, oh, maybe that'll be a good idea. So I talked to her about, it said, well, you go to go to Harrods. That's the place to learn. And I went to hers and I got sacked. So then I did my national service for two years. Full-time and when I came out, I still really wasn't sure. Uh, and I went to an organization for ex army officers, uh, that looked for jobs and they picked up a job for me in Harrisons and Crossfield, which was an import export company. One of the oldest in the east and the plan was to go back to the east. Like lots of people brought up in colonies before the. most of us wanted to go back mm-hmm not really realizing that things had changed so much. Anyway. Um, I worked for Harrison to Crossfield and in those days they paid me 350 pounds a year, which even in those in the fifties was not a lot of money. And, um, I was in a talk age host, which is where I. And there were Kiwis there and I liked them and they said, why don't you have a look at going to God's own country? My response was, if you lot came from, it must be God forsaken, but they were good friends. And I actually applied for a job, uh, as I herd tester, which the ad said that they didn't need any previous experience. Well, then they didn't accept me cuz I hadn't any previous experience. But somebody suggested that I applied to the bank of New Zealand and the thing was, I had itchy feet. I wanted to go and the bank took me on and sent me out to New Zealand on a contract for two years. And it was while I was in the bank. In a small town called why Mattie in the south island of New Zealand, when the vicar invited the Dean to do a mission he was a character. Anyway, he turned to me and he said, David, you like people, don't you? And I said, uh, yes, sir. And he didn't say anymore. I said, what are you getting at? And he said, you know what I'm getting at says, oh, no, I don't. He said, yes, you do. I said, you mean ordination? I said, no, no, no, I, I, I don't have the skills for that. And he said, no, no, LA you're just too bloody lazy to give it a go So I didn't sleep for three nights. And as you're a teller and a bank, that's not a very good thing. Customers get very upset. So in the end I said, yes, thinking they turned me down and they. uh, and I got selected and I did three years training, uh, in the theological college and then began the rest of the journey, went to Ashburton, then moved from. To a new parish that was being developed in Christ church, which was one of the poorest areas of the city. And then I went to Littleton, the port, and then to Auckland, to what was most, probably the most significant parish that I've had in my whole career St. Pauls in Auckland. And then we went back to the south island to Rangiora. And then we went to Timaru, which is where I finally finished up the official retirement.

Jean:

I know in that journey you've been a leader. You've been a leader of parishs and a leader of people within that context, you've led at quite big teams you've been an arch deacon, so you've led other clergy in different spaces. what did you learn about leadership during those experiences?

David:

I think the most important thing. Leadership is not telling people what to do. It's encouraging them. Somebody once said, when you're talking about spiritual direction find out what they're doing and tell 'em to keep doing it. I see leadership as a means of encouraging people into their roles. I also see it as something where you have to challenge people where they're actually not developing their potential or they're doing something that's going to harm somebody else. One of the most important things as a priest is that you don't harm other people and cause you are a human being, because you have your own foibles because you have your own fears. And your questions you can very easily from within your own psyche hurt other people. I think that the role of a leader is not to do that mm-hmm and the other role of a leader is to draw out of people, stuff they don't know. They have, I remember once when the first parish I had Aranui, somebody said to me, David must be really difficult. You know, you've got no sort of, uh, lawyers or doctors or accountants in your parish, they're all sort of working class people. I said, and he said, where do you get your leadership? And I said, well, you obviously have never been in the army because the army has the most fantastic leaders. They're corporals and sergeants. So within that context of Aranui, there were leaders, all they needed was somebody to help them to be leaders. And that I think is very important because so. We think that because somebody's got a degree or they've got certain qualifications, they're gonna be a leader. Not necessarily, they might be the person that you least expect,

Jean:

What do you think are the attributes of being a leader that you see in people or that you think we, as leaders could bring to our leadership?

David:

First of all, I think humanity is very important. Leaders have to be human mm-hmm. It's looking, exploring to see how do they treat with other people? What's their vision about what's going on around them? And sometimes you will think somebody's going to make a good leader and they don't they just don't have it or they don't want it. Mm. And they get promoted to their Peter principal. Mm.

Jean:

Yeah. I think that's a real challenge because sometimes it's quite hard to leadership in people. And sometimes when they get there, they find it sad. So I know many of the coaching clients I've had have been people who are in leadership and yet struggling with different aspects of it. I was also hearing you say, I think the two key things, there were one was about vision. So having a vision and the other one was about humanity, because if we're not human in a way, we can't take people with us. They're not gonna head in the direction of the vision. If we are not treating them in a humane and compassionate and, empathic way.

David:

I think another thing that leaders in my opinion should have is a sense of pastoral.

Jean:

And what do you mean by pastoral care.

David:

That you're aware of how people are performing, that you're aware of their strengths and their aware of their weaknesses that you are aware when they're struggling and they need a little bit of help to get over whatever the hump is. Um, A and to be aware of their background situation, you know, if you've got somebody that you're responsible for and they're struggling in their marriage, if you're not aware of that and you're not trying to do something, not necessarily to become their marriage counselor, but providing the kind of support they might need to keep going. And I think the other thing into pastoral care is to actually front somebody up to say, th this isn't working, you're not on the ball. And you know, this is going to go finish up in disaster mm-hmm and that actually is not easy. No. I think having those difficult conversations are some of the hardest things that any leader has to do actually yeah. To help people see things that they're not seeing about themselves or their performance or their own leadership. Yeah. Hardest things. I found that bit very hard. Mm. Um, and there were occasions when I failed because I, I wasn't prepared. you know, I'm thinking about a particular situation where I should have said to the Bishop. No, and I didn't. Mm mm. Partly because I was being too pastoral mm-hmm mm-hmm

Jean:

yes, I think that's right, because if we are being too pastoral, we can be actually over caring or almost paternalistic in the way we are working with people rather than seeing us as adults together in a job where one of us has some responsibility for that.

David:

Mm yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. You are still working as a priest. What is it about this type of work that really suits you and your. well. First of all, I'm an extrovert and somebody once said that basically clergy, uh, failed actors so there's a sense in which that side of the ministry I love, I love being opening that space and if possible, providing brilliant music and everything done in order and decency, but open and human. But the other side of being a priest is the enormous privilege of walking beside people. Walking beside people when they've lost somebody, when you walk into a house and somebody's just lost their son or daughter, or mother or husband. When you are in, in that space, in that first conversation, you will hear things that have never been said before. Mm-hmm, that's a privilege that is not available to everybody. Mm. Um, and that's enormous. And then preparing a couple for marriage and taking their wedding. Yeah. What a wonderful thing to stand there. These two young people, and I always wind them up a bit in the service. So that's all in the context of that. The bits of being a parish priest. that I didn't like was all the admin but I think most people don't like admin. Yeah, no, no. There are people who do actually I did have one person who loved admin. Yes. Yes. I don't like admin.

Jean:

Your favorite. It does. It does. So much of what I'm hearing and what you're saying up till now really is about that for you, the human, the connection with people in those different rights of passage in taking a service, which, is a ritual in a way, is really important for you to, to create opportunities and space for people to go on a journey, to have an experience to connect with God is, is really just at the heart. So much of what you enjoy about work, about your work as a priest?

David:

Yeah, I think that's true. It's human stuff. There's also the thing that growing is important. Mm. Uh, you know, I, one of the things that I wasn't a much of an academic at school, I, I never went to university. I'm not a great person for study and what have you, but I wanted to learn. and I think part of being a priest for me was that I was on a journey of learning. And so often too things I didn't want to learn. Uh, where I got painted into a corner, I would say painted into a corner by God. And I had to embrace something that in my understanding in theology was right. part of the thing that's been a blessing is that I've been able to learn so much. Not when I was at theological college, all they taught me was how to read my way around the Bible and what doctrines were and all that stuff. It's the learning that I've had to do on the ground going and getting involved in the human potential movement, for instance learning about being a spiritual guide for people, um, learning. sort of structures and how they might be improved, all that sort of stuff. I enjoyed all of that. Don't think there was some things I failed at

Jean:

but I don't think you've stopped. I mean, that's my experience of you as you still are learning you, you are curious, you're naturally curious person. And so anything that pops your way, you'll be interested in it.

David:

Yes. Yes. I, I often say that life is about learning and the moment of death is the next step in learning. Wow. Yeah. You know, death is a process of learning it. You do it, you you're born on your own and when you die, you're the only one who experiences what's happening to you. It's that solitary thing. Um, yeah, so it learning is, is important. Um, yeah,

Jean:

I am a hard working. and I suspect that some of my work ethic has come from you. Um, and I guess I'm a bit curious about whether you would've described yourself as having a work ethic or what, what your approach to hard work has been, or, you know, how have you seen the nature of that kind of hard work that you've done?

David:

I think couple of things were happening. I was trying to prove myself. I had a very poor self-esteem. I remember that when my parish in Auckland blew up in my face. We had a large staff and they all went and I was the problem. Uh, we had, we living in community and most of them went and I was the problem. I had to go and find out why I was the problem. Um, and I remember that part of that was that I, when I reflected, I saw myself as a little boy in short pants, how I was coming to lead. Place. I mean, I was doing it by the seat of my pants. I'd had no training in actual leadership ever, except in the army. The army did teach me how to be a leader. And that came in, uh, to my role. Everything you've done prior to being a priest will come up in your journey and you'll use those skills again at some point. But in terms of leading a congregation or anything, never taught anything about that. And, uh, when that all blew up in my face, I then had to go into, go to somebody, Joan Galloway, who was a priest and a psychotherapist, and I spent two and a half years actually working with her. To realize I was a very, very angry. But I didn't know I was angry. And I then discovered why I was angry, where that anger came from and so on. And Joan helped me to grow through that. And if there's something that really gets up my hoo quickly, it's clergy who don't do their own work. You have no right. And, and I would say this applies to all people in leadership. You have no right to be leading people when you're not facing your own shit, if I'm allowed to use that word. Uh, and that was the learning. That was a learning moment for me. So it is all about growing in that sort of sense and facing yourself. That's the thing facing your wounds?

Jean:

what you're saying is so true that we show up as leaders through ourselves. We are the leadership tool actually. I mean, I, my training as a coach, as an organization, psychologist, the learning was about being the tool that we're offering to the client. And the same is true for clergy you are the, the. and you are the leadership tool and that, unless we get to know ourselves, we know where our hooks and our triggers are. We know how we're likely to react to people in stressful situations. And unless we do some of that work, we are not as effective. And in fact, as what you're describing, we can be harmful to people in that space. Mm-hmm Yeah. But the other thing that you said, I, which I think is interesting was about a lot of your hard work coming out of wanting to prove your. And I'm curious then about when you became more whole, for want of a better word, whether it changed your work patterns, whether you noticed yourself working differently when you were on the other side of that personal journey.

David:

I did take a step back in terms of not being as available as I had been. Mm-hmm I used to say when, when I was first, I'm always available rubbish. You're not always available. You could be sitting in the Lou for instance, you're not always available and it's a nonsensical state. Mm, because you're then raising expectations for, for people that you can't meet. Um, I think that my ego played a hell of a part in my life. I think most men in their sort of thirties and forties, they're trying to find their way. They're trying to find out who they are. They're trying to climb the ladder, whatever, even in the church, we're all trying to get somewhere.

Jean:

You've been a rule breaker, actually. You're not somebody who necessarily likes to stick within the guidelines if you have to at all. And I'm wondering what that experience has been like being a part of a various established organization institution and being somebody who likes to push against the edges and break the rules at.

David:

Well, it's been fun in a way. I love winding people up a bit. Um, I think it's just who I am. I've always been looking for the next exciting thing to, you know, something comes along and I think, oh, that's interesting. Um, I'd like to get involved or I'd like to do, that'll do that. My, my problem has been, I'm not a reader, so. Uh, and I was very grateful to the Myers Briggs process to discover that E NFPS don't remember what they read, but they do remember what they hear. And in the Anglican church, the thing is what the Bishop would say, what are you reading now be for? Uh, and of course was I wouldn't, I wouldn't have a clue. I, I could tell 'em the book, but I wouldn't be able to say what was in it, but that was why I went going on courses and all that sort of stuff, because I was learned there, what I would not learn out of the book. Hmm. And that has actually been a handicap because even now I'm a slow reader. Uh, and I have to really. Sometimes make notes if I want to remember something, otherwise it, but the, I think the point about that was to recognize that I, you know, when Myers Briggs showed that to me, I I've said, okay, stuff, the books and I'll get on and do my leaning the other way.

Jean:

Yeah. I mean, I think we all have to do that. Find our way that works for us, with learning. And, um, what's what makes life easier now is audio books, because you can listen without having to do the reading. So the learning can be absorbed in a different way. You've also worked a lot with teams, what would you say helps a team come together and work well?

David:

well, I think that the biggest team I've worked with was, was at St. Pauls in Auckland and looking back, I didn't really know what I was doing. I do a team of people around me because I needed that team to make the place work. But I wish I had. some things beforehand. One of the biggest mistakes we made was we never actually established any contracts. Mm-hmm And I think the first contract, which we should have established was I will not listen to anything. Anybody else says about you, unless they know that it's going to be reported back. Great rule. So I think there needs to be some kind of contract that is negotiated clearly and parameters and so on. Um, and in the contract, there should be things like what kind of support will I give? what kind of support will you give me? Mm-hmm um, am I open to you correcting me now? That would be very hard for me. I'd be on the defense very quickly. But I think it's that, that, that was wish I learned. Hmm. I think the other thing I learned in is that, the way people behave. Is sometimes not it's not right up front. You can't see it. You learn about it after the debacle that's happened even in business or whatever, you've got all those dynamics going on.

Jean:

We do, we do in every team, I think in every context. Yeah.

David:

And all of us come with our insecurities and we may not know what they are. You may find out in the.

Jean:

It's quite common. I think other people in the team trigger something in you that maybe you didn't even know about yourself. That was a blind spot. Yeah. And that triggers an insecurity. Yeah. I think that's really quite commonly happens. You are 89, as I said at the beginning. Um, and you've not really retired properly. Um, I'm curious about that because I believe that a lot of people talk about retirement and maybe it's because they want to leave a job that they're not happy in, and it's not actually about actually stopping working. And so I guess I'm wondering for you what does the concept of retirement mean? And would you recommend it?

David:

I'll tell you a little story that might explain it. Uh, Loma my wife and I were visiting a Franciscan fryer brother, Leo. Who's a lovely man, really lovely man. And we were at the fryer, he was cooking the meal and he turned to me and he said, what are you doing now, father? And I said, I've retired. and there was a long pause and he turned and he looked at me, he said, where did you send the resignation? You're a priest. You never retire. And so there's a sense in which that is true, you know, that you're a priest, you're a priest for, for longest, whatever. The other thing about retirement I became aware as a priest of people who retired at 60 or 65 and suddenly you saw a little old man walking down the street. Mm. Um, and I thought, no, I am not doing old. And I'm still not doing old. And there are bits of me that are falling off possibly, but I'm not doing. and I think that it's a mindset that retirement is somehow you, put out to grass or whatever. There are parts of retirement, which are very unpleasant, uh, particularly for, I think for clergy, you know, you're being part of the process. You're you hear all the gossip, you know, gossip essential in, in business and in, in the church and everything, you hear all the best and who's what, what doing what and where they're going. And. But all of a sudden, you don't hear any more of that. There's a silence there. Um, and I always said that when I retired, I wouldn't do any priesty thing for at least six months, which I did cause this was a new stage of life. And what are you gonna do with this new stage of life? Now, some people are quite happy. They go and play balls. or they paint or they take up golf or that sort of thing. And that's their new stage of life. And they're very happy and contented with that and they go on trips. And what have you, others of us have still have to have something to do. Mm. Uh, others of us will keep working. You know, I, what was the man who ran the building company in New Zealand he was 95 and he was still going to the office every day. So there are some people who will go on working and some people who need to stop and go and play balls. Mm that's. The right thing for them. Mm. Uh, but the important thing is you think about what's going to happen. Cause what happens is that suddenly 65, the company says you're out now mate, 65 and you haven't thought about the future. Yeah. And haven't thought very important.

Jean:

And haven't thought about that void, which I think is, is very present. It. Look, can look attractive that not doing anything, but we get so much of our sense of purpose and meaning from the work we do that. If we are heading towards retirement, it's important. I think to look for. That sense of purpose of meaning and other parts of our lives, or to be doing something that, that supports us otherwise, I think we can lose our way and perhaps feel old because we feel like we've got no purpose. We feel like there's, there's nothing there holding us together almost.

David:

I personally feel that that's one of the things that maybe the business world has actually not helped. Um, because I think. The, as I see the business world, people are commodities that they use, uh, that they don't actually see. So, you know, Jones is the accountant department or whatever. And he's now I, we think he's coming to the end of his use by date. Uh, and he's going to leave. There's very often. I think that's how companies, and I think the church does. I've certainly experienced that Now I'm not suggesting that companies are going to have to keep a relationship with a person, but that there could be something that they do in helping people prepare for retirement and see that as part of what they have to offer their.

Jean:

Mm. Mm. A few companies do, but not, not many at all. And, uh, I, I think it's really important. I mean, one of the other things I observe in late career people is that often the organization almost allows the person to wind down actually, when they're not ready and they want to carry on being stimulated right to the end. And I think it's good for us to have. End to our, to that part of our working lives or that part of our career that has also got meaning in it. And it isn't a sort of fizzling out then we go out with a bang if you like. We're coming to the end of our conversation I've really loved this dad. I think there's things that you've talked about that I didn't know. And you have a lot of wisdom and experience. To share. And I'm really, um, happy that we have this opportunity for you to do that. I wonder as we come to a close, whether there's one piece of learning from your working life or one insight that you think it's helpful for others to know and understand that you could finish.

David:

I think the couple of things I'd like to say to that one is remain true to yourself. It's very important that you are true to who you are, and you're not trying to take on somebody else's persona, whatever. Um, I think that the second thing I would say is it's okay to fail. I have, on several times I've had two parishes blow up in my face and I've had to face my part in what happened. Uh, I think they're all growth points and their growth points to embrace, not run away from mm. um, so it's okay to fail. Um, and it's okay to be a success. And sometimes that's hard because when you are a success and you're doing a job, well, there are others who don't like it and will try to bring you down so that when you come to the end of your working. um, whatever that might mean paid working, like most probably you have grown to the point where you, you own yourself, you value yourself, you can go on to the next stage and you take with you the good and the bad that's happened. Uh, and when you step down, uh, and go to the pub for, for a drink, you are who you are. fingers to anybody else.

Jean:

Wonderful. Thank you. Those are really great insights that I absolutely ring. True. Well, David dad, thank you so much for being with me in this conversation. And I know there's lots here for people to hear from your experience. So thank you.

David:

Thank you darling. For asking me that's been actually. It's another thing I've never done before and I've loved every second of it.

Jean:

great. Just, just keep learning. That's the plan. I'm doing my best. Yes.