Book Review: The Invisibles

Invisibles“When I grow up, I want to be invisible.” Most kids would never say such a thing, but David Zweig shows they may be missing out on the most satisfying careers of all.

Most of us don’t value the things we can’t see. “Out of sight, out of mind,” the old saying goes. But that doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. In fact, some of the most essential jobs in the world happen behind the scenes. That’s the premise of Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion.

Think “Wayfinding” sounds unimportant? Think again. Walking through an airport without careful work by a wayfinder like Jim Harding would be an exercise in panic and confusion.

Ever heard of “simultaneous interpretation?” Probably not. But without gifted interpreters like Giulia Wilkins Ary, international diplomacy would come to a grinding halt.

With a background in fact-checking, the author began to notice that behind every great enterprise, there were people quietly doing their job, far away from the spotlight, who were absolutely essential. He calls them, the “Invisibles.” “The invisibles, as I define them (really, as they came to be defined through my research), are highly skilled, and people whose roles are critical to whatever enterprise they are a part of” (p. 7). In fact, about the only time they become “visible” is when their job is done poorly.

Zweig identifies three common traits across his research. Invisibles will have (1) ambivalence toward recognition; (2) meticulousness; and (3) savoring of responsibility. Their success lies not in being the center of attention, but doing their job well and getting out of the way.

As a Christian, this book took on even deeper meaning for me. Jesus Himself said that true greatness is in humility rather than self-promotion. “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it” (Lk. 17:33).

Perhaps John the Baptist was the greatest Invisible of all. He saw himself as merely the “friend of the bridegroom” whose sole purpose was to fade into the background and let Christ take center stage. “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:29-30). Can I say the same?

Invisibles was not only interesting and fun to read; it was thought provoking. Am I content to remain invisible? Who are the invisibles that could use a simple word of appreciation? Are we raising the next generation to value the things that matter most?

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