Making my career serve my vocation

Making my career serve my vocation March 12, 2013

I awoke this morning to the sound of a bird chirping for the first time this year.  I’ve seen a few wild geese returning in the past week.  And when I walked into my office today, I just caught sight of a red-breasted robin outside my window.  Spring is around the corner, but there are no blossoms on the trees yet.

Yesterday was a cold, gloomy Monday, and my mood suffered accordingly.  I also had a setback at work, and a disproportionate emotional setback in response.  But this morning, the sun broke through the clouds like a revelation, bathing my office in warm yellow light, and I stretched my arms open to receive it.  All felt well with the world again.  I’m hoping to see a few buds come before out spring equinox celebration next week.

Spring is a time for new beginnings.  And I’m going through one right now.  I’ve been in a funk for a while, and I’ve posted about it recently.  Part of it is the lingering winter, I know.  But it is also that season of my life.

I’ve been reading recently Jungian James Hollis’ book The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Midlife.  (He has another book on the same topic for a more general audience: Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up.)  Jung believed that, generally speaking, the life-task in the second half of life differed from the task of the first.  In the first half of life, one struggles to attain ego differentiation, separation from the unconscious source.  But in the second half, the task is to return to the unconscious and (re-)discover the Self.

In his book, Hollis tackles “mid-life crises”, marriage, children, and work from a Jungian perspective, and does so in a compelling and eloquent manner.  I’ll probably be writing more about it in the near future, but I wanted to mention one statement in particular that stood out to me.  While discussing the fact that pursuing one’s “vocation” or calling may often require the sacrifice of material security, he also says this is not always the case: “One can spend one’s life and economic servitude, or one can say, ‘There is how I earn my living, a necessary trade-off with the creditors, but here is where my soul is replenished.'”  (paraphrased).  Hollis gives the example of a philosopher friend that spends half his day delivering newspapers and the other half pursuing his vocation as a philosopher.  He concludes about his friend, “He found a balance between work and vocation and was served by both.”

For a long time I have struggled with the question of career versus vocation.  I excel at my job as a lawyer and I am well-suited to it.  It provides me and my family with a relatively comfortable material life.  But spiritually, it provides me with no sustenance.  I have often fantasized about working as a college professor, teaching history or religious studies – a career path than I consciously chose not to follow when I was an undergraduate for purely financial reasons.  I have felt torn by this decision ever since I began my career as a lawyer.

But Hollis’ statement above made me realize that I had set up a false dichotomy.  My career need not be my vocation.  In fact, my career provides me with both the material wherewithal and the leisure time to pursue my spiritual vocation.  This is a privilege that most people do not enjoy and I am grateful for it.  I need not look to my job for spiritual satisfaction; my job provides me with material satisfaction that frees me to seek spiritual satisfaction elsewhere.  There is where I earn my living, but here is where my soul is replenished.  I do envy those people who are able to find both in one place, but my current arrangement is still pretty nice.

So, when I read Hollis’ statement, I seized on it, and my mind immediately turned to making plans to do those things that I have wanted to do for some time, but for some reason seemed unattainable.  I don’t know what kept me from doing them in the past, some illusion that my career needed to be my vocation, and since I was unwilling to give up my career, I could not pursue my vocation.  But in fact, far from being an obstacle to doing those things I have wanted to do, my job makes those things possible by giving me both the financial means and the leisure time to pursue them.

One of them is a 2-week “burro-supported” trek in Peru to the ruins Choquequirao and then on to Machu Pichu.  I’ve felt called to do this for about a year now, ever since I saw an article in a magazine about discovering the Inca ruins the “hard way”.  I’ve already started making plans to go these with my father, brother, and son next year.  The trip will be expensive, so it is my job that makes it possible (without having to sacrifice much else).

Another dream is to get involved again in academia — which is where I was the happiest — either in a Religious Studies program and/or a Jungian studies program.  So, I signed up for Jung and Spirituality series of classes at the Jungian Institute of Chicago.  This past Sunday I went to my first class.  It was invigorating being in a room with people with a similar love of all things Jung.  The class is somewhat expensive, so again it is my job that makes this possible.

These are both small steps, but they feel monumental for me, because the seemingly monumental obstacle that had been standing in the way of me doing them has suddenly disappeared.  I’m excited about where this will take me.  I know there may be sacrifices I have to make in the future, hard choices between vocation and career.  But for the first time in a long while, I am grateful for my career.  I finally feel that my career is serving me, not by itself being my vocation, but by making my vocation possible.

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