Four Lessons for Missionaries from Pam on The Office

by Amy Young on August 20, 2020

This summer I read The Actor’s Life by Jenna Fischer who is best known for playing Pam on The Office.  It is an introductory book for anyone who wants to break into the acting scene in the U.S. While I have no interest in (or delusions about) becoming a working actor, I was curious what advice Jenna might give to wanna be actors. I was surprised to find that the actor’s life and the missionary’s life are so similar. In my notes, I wrote four key takeaways from this book and thought I’d share them with you:

1. “Fill the Vault”— when it seems that “nothing is happening!” use that as a time to fill your vault. Life will not always be quiet, so use it to fill your vault.  When you are in a busier phase, you can go back in your vault and pull out a Bible study you outlined, an outreach activity you brainstormed, a list of questions you want to ask your teammates, or any access other tidbits you’ve saved. So, take notes, keep a list, or make a folder on your phone as you listen to podcasts, read, or pray. 

2. Build Community— Over and over Jenna stressed how she thought she was simply going to make it as an actor on her own. “What I didn’t understand was the importance of participating in a creative environment on a regular basis, in finding a group of people with whom I could share a collective artistic life. My life changed when I finally found this. And the way I found this was by joining things.”

Thankfully it is easier than ever for you to join things with fellow cross-cultural workers. Comment on blog posts like this! Respond to other people’s comments. Join Facebook groups. When something live is offered online, sign up! Don’t make the mistake that Jenna did at the start of her career and be isolated in the name of being “focused” or “strategic” . . . isolation just makes things harder. Build community.

3. Listen to Experts— For instance, in the acting world, headshots are key (and not cheap). It was on Jenna’s fourth round of having headshots taken that she hired someone who . . . took headshots! (Not just photos.) There will be people who know about language learning, studying culture, raising TCKs, dealing with grief, raising support, adjusting to change, living far from family, tending your soul, sharing your faith, and all of the other parts of being a cross-cultural worker. Listen to them.

4. Keep Investing in Your Craft— Even though Jenna (and many actors) studied acting in college, they keep taking classes throughout their career. Even now, as a “famous” working actor, Jenna still takes classes. I was curious to read she took classes on how to move your body, block a scene, different accents, among the classes she listed. Historically this type of investing wasn’t available to missionaries so we aren’t used to thinking of it. But now with easier access to books, podcasts, and online training geared specifically for us, we too need to keep investing in our calls. If you haven’t, sign up for Global Trellis’s free 15 day challenge designed for cross-cultural workers and based on Philippians 4:8, sign up today! And check out these workshops.

Jenna’s words are simple but not simplistic: fill the vault, build community, listen to experts, and keep investing in your craft. Yes, yes, yes.

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About Amy Young

Amy Young wants to help people find the sweet spot between burn out and rust out with ongoing personal and professional development. Founder of Global Trellis, co-founder of Velvet Ashes, she personally blogs at Messy Middle, and is the author of four books (Looming TransitionsLove, AmyEnjoying Newsletters, and GettingStarted. You too can live in your sweet spot.

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