From the Desk of ... Sharon Alexander, MBA '85
I don’t think God cares whether someone decides to be a lawyer, doctor, accountant, teacher, artist or engineer. One of my favorite definitions of “vocation” is the faithful use of the gifts and talents God has given us, in a way that benefits others. The challenge is to discern our gifts and find ways to use them.
My own journey from the corporate world to the legal world to priesthood has been an ongoing lesson in vocation.
When I was looking at graduate programs, I stopped by the Graduate School of Business on a whim. I was told liberal arts majors typically did not do well in the MBA program. This was a challenge I could not resist. Much to my surprise, I loved the program and discovered that liberal arts majors do just fine. I also discovered I had gifts for analyzing organizations and bringing people with differing views to the table to work together. I loved helping companies determine their “core business” and how to reorganize around that. I relied on those same skills when I transitioned to practicing corporate law.
Soon after, I became heavily involved in the Episcopal Church to try to balance my life. Fortunately a few wise priests taught me that going full steam ahead in both law and church is not balance. A mission trip to Bolivia opened my eyes to new possibilities, and church leaders encouraged me to attend seminary and later move to New Orleans to serve a community that is still recovering from the devastation of Katrina, the oil spill of 2010, and a long history of neglect, corruption, and racism.
As a priest I help people discover how God is already working in their lives. I have yet to meet the person whose life does not need to be transformed in some way to have a better relationship with God and with other people. There are internal barriers to right relationships—pride, dishonesty, greed, anger. But the way a church operates can also serve as a barrier. A church may prevent certain voices from being heard, concentrate resources in too few areas, fail to provide access to all members of a community or practice unsound financial strategy. My background and experience help identify those barriers and find ways to overcome them.
Much like the large corporate bankruptcies I once navigated, there are no formulas in helping churches restructure to meet the challenges of the 21st century. But I love complex, messy problems, and when you combine that with a talented and diverse team, you get the creative thinking today’s church—and any organization—requires.
It may seem odd for an MBA lawyer to become a priest, but people in Louisiana are more intrigued that I went to UT than they are with my work background (They remind me that LSU’s purple and gold are proper liturgical colors, while burnt orange is not.). My background gives me common ground with business people when they have spiritual or ethical concerns. After all, I have dealt with difficult co-workers, long hours, ill-timed requests from clients, and deciding whether to spend time with family or at work. I also know how difficult it can be to practice your faith in the business world. But I have found that faith and business do not have to be at odds with each other, and faith can help us get through difficult business situations.
Priesthood wasn’t what I had in mind when I graduated from business school, but I believe we have to be open to surprises if we go where God leads us instead of where we want to go. My experience is that the surprises can be very good.