Monks Take A Vow of Stability: The Antidote To The Shiny Object Syndrome

The Rule of Benedict has governed life and business in Catholic monasteries and convents around the world for over 1500 years. In order to become a monk or nun you must take a vow, called a solemn vow, after a three year trial period of discernment. This “practice” is both for the community and the prospective monk to prayerfully determine if indeed this vow is the right thing to do. The commitments made in front of the community and God are “stability, fidelity to the monastic life, and obedience.” As sacred as a wedding vow. I want to talk about the vow of stability.  

Stability is a cornerstone of the Rule of Benedict. Some say that the Rule is the oldest management document in continual use. The pledge of stability is one of place. That a monk or nun will seek the monastic life in this place, in this community. Or as my copy of The Benedictine Handbook says, “This promise is very different from the lifestyle of a wandering monk of Benedict’s day.” There is no question that this promise of stability has anchored the faithful that brings us such joys as Trappist beer, cheese, and fruitcakes. What application might this promise have for us?

While I still suffer from The Shiny Object Syndrome, I am better, not cured. Years in the trenches have both worn me down and given me perspective that I did not have in my 20s or 30s. Not that there really is a cure, it’s more symptom management and discipline than anything else. Guess I should explain a little bit about what it is. It could also be called the “follow your dreams” syndrome. It’s a person’s inability to focus when distracted by the shiny object in his or her peripheral vision. Over time this shiny object can become so luminous that it more than distracts but dominates our thoughts and daydreams. For entrepreneurs this can be devastating if not kept in check. What about Elon Musk and Steve Jobs you say? Well, for every one of them there are thousands of men and women whose businesses succumbed because they could not stay focused on the road ahead.

Fueled by the internet and social media this malady, by the way, is not only found in entrepreneurs but in all of humanity. We are surrounded by shiny objects on our screens. All. Day. Long. I see on Instagram that my friend opened a snow cone stand in Costa Rica. I could do that! Two or three hours later I emerge from day drinking Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest looking for something better than my life now, convinced I will find it in Costa Rica. The problem is not that we’re unsettled seeking a better life for ourselves but that the shiny lure is tempting us now more than ever. And it repeatedly brings us back for more hitting the same reward centers in our brain as crack cocaine. “That other thing has got to be better than this” overwhelms us in a way now that was never possible before. What’s the answer?!

Timeout. Wait. What? I am the poster child for leaving a successful career and starting a new thing. Talk about a shiny object! While it’s true I’ve written a book, with my daughter Lawren, which centers on finding your vocation in business I also talk about STAYING WHERE YOU ARE. I realize that I didn’t stay put but we write at length about that thought process and what it looks like to find your vocation right where you are. Now more than ever — staying where you are — your house, your car, your job, your city, your school, your spouse — takes courage! The chains that once held us to these things (another story) are no longer binding us. It’s easy to leave. Too easy.

I am not suggesting we all become monks and nuns. However, looking at this ancient idea of a “solemn vow of stability” is worthy of our consideration. My grandparents continue as my example on this point. They were married and lived on the same farm here in Southwest Missouri for nearly 65 years. They did not live an easy life but one steeped in stability. Of course things went wrong with the crops, the cows, the chickens, the garden but their lives were deeply rooted in their faith, in each other, in their work, and in their neighbors. Stability gave them peace when the world swirled around them. That’s what it can do for me and you.

The monk’s vow of stability means that they don’t just pick up and move to another monastery when things get tough. I know a monk who is in the process of moving after over 50 years at Assumption Abbey. He’s talked to the Abbot about this for a year or so, prayerfully considered it, and will have a one year trial period at another abbey. This decision is not taken lightly but with great discernment. I am a Family Brother at Assumption Abbey and the the complete process is six years long. I am about four years into my “promise” based on my Rule of Life (loosely based on the Rule of Benedict) and in two years I will take a final vow of sorts, a lifetime commitment to this Abbey. The brothers, the liturgy, the balance of work and prayer help keep me grounded. Like I said, I still suffer from the lure of the shiny objects but I am working on it.

If you see yourself in any of this then I recommend finding your own heroes of stability and talk to them. Ask questions and listen. Seek their wisdom as the elders they are. They can help keep you grounded, in check, and at peace. I hope you can talk to them face to face in person and develop a relationship that spans the years. This human connection might one day enable you to be the teacher when someone much younger than yourself seeks your wise counsel.

Read my book, Meaningful Work: A Quest To Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul, co-written with my daughter Lawren to learn more about this topic and others. The book will be out November 14th and is available for pre-order now (just click the book cover to the right).

Grandma and Grandpa With Lawren
My Grandparents, in their mid-80s, holding my daughter (and future co-author) Lawren in the den on their farm