As I travel, I have opportunity to meet many people. Last week in Seattle, I met Lessa, a server at a nice, relatively upscale restaurant. It was near closing time and the restaurant was almost empty, so as I was paying for my meal, Lessa and I spent a few moments chatting.
Her children are almost grown, and she has been waiting tables for the better part of fifteen years. She’s in her early 40s, and now she’s wondering what she wants to do with the rest of her life.
I took the opportunity to give Lessa one of my favorite hypothetical scenarios:
You have a very wealthy uncle who recently passed on. He was extremely rich – billions in the bank. And, because you were his favorite niece (or nephew, if I’m presenting the story to a man), your rich uncle has left his entire estate to you, with only one condition: You must work at a “for-profit” company at least 40 hours a week, but you cannot collect a paycheck. You must simply give of your time. If you do this, you may draw on your uncle’s billions as long as you live.
What kind of work would you do?
You are correct if you see that the scenario is designed to help people identify what their career passions are.
Lessa thought for only a few seconds. “Something with accounting,” she said. “I like working with numbers and getting everything to balance out.”
Like many people, Lessa is at a point in her life where she is tired of having a “job.” She wants a profession. She spent many years being a professional mom, and that’s just where she wanted to be (hats off to that decision). But now that her kids are moving on, she wants another challenge. And she doesn’t think waiting tables is going to do it for her.
Let me quickly say that I know quite a few people who make a career of waiting tables, and they love their work. Like anything else, waiting tables can be a profession. But for Lessa, it was a “job.” She wanted to do something that was “her.”
Parker Palmer, in his book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, says “the pilgrimage toward true self will take time, many places, and years.”
Palmer also writes:
Vocation does not come from willingness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about – quite apart from what I would like it to be about – or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.
The key word here is vocation, which is rooted in the Latin for “voice.” Vocation does not mean a goal we pursue. It means a calling that we hear. In other words, before we can tell our lives what we want to do, we must listen to our lives telling us who we are.
We can hear that “voice” better if we pay attention to the fit between our true self and our situations. We are supposed to continually grow, to increase our competence in our chosen endeavor, to become ever more capable of facing new challenges. If these things are not happening in our work, then we may be doing the wrong thing. In other words, if what you’re doing doesn’t get easier and easier, it may be that what you’re doing is not what God had in mind for you.
As I often tell people, “If you love what you do, it’s not work.”
Sadly, some people I meet do not have an answer for my hypothetical scenario. They show up, do what they’re told, and leave, all without any sense of fulfillment.
Since most people would rather have fulfillment than frustration, consider your work. Are you working in the area of your calling? Are you doing what brings fulfillment? If not, you can consider your options and make a change. Sometimes the options involve sacrifice, as is the case for Lessa, who will have to attend college as a non-traditional student to follow her passion. But if the change brings the fulfillment you seek, the effort is certainly worth it.