I’ve been through two employment crises. Three if you include the uncertain business of doing doctoral work against the backdrop of a changing academy and a shrinking church. This is a piece of what I have learned:
Focus on vocation — on God’s calling on your life.
That calling won’t have a title or a job description attached to it. You won’t find it on an “org chart.” It might not even be one in the same with your “day-job.”
The key to discovering your vocation lies in asking what do I do, who am I, how am I — everywhere I go? Am I a healer, problem-solver, nurturer, teacher, encourager, evangelist, comforter, builder, creator, dreamer, heavy-lifter, an artist, or a detail person? The answer to that question often lies in patterns that are established early in life and deepen over time. There are times when we recognize them. There are times when friends and loved ones see them first.
Jobs are not always the best vehicles of vocation. Most of them are only good vehicles of a life’s vocation to a point. Even the best of jobs include tasks that do not accord well with our life’s vocation. There are other times and places when our vocations are worked out elsewhere and the job pays the bills. There are other occasions when the day-job makes the vocation possible.
Don’t focus on jobs as the key to life’s significance. Most of us spend 18 to 21 years getting ready to work. We get a job that isn’t the same as the one we planned to do. Our employment is punctuated by layoffs, illness, changes in the job market, inter-office strife, and discrimination. Then, we retire. If everything goes well we may live another 20 to 30 years.
Why build your life around something as tenuous as a job or title? Look for the vocation that is deeply rooted in your life, the way of being that expresses God’s calling on your life. Whatever happens, you are God’s gift to the world in the making. No job can give you that. No job can take it away.
The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews (find out more here.) He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), live in Highland Park, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and four grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, and Sophie. This post originally appeared on his blog “What God Wants for Your Life.”