Once upon a time people grew up, finished school, entered their profession and eventually retired on an employer-provided pension after many years of faithful service. For most jobs, pensions are a thing of the past. So is spending your career with a single employer. These days, we go through an average of seven jobs – before we turn 30. (Robin Marantz Henig, “What Is It About 20-Somethings?,” New York Times Magazine, August 18, 2010.)
What’s the deal? Is this a necessary adjustment to a more complex economy, or a sign that we’re flaky and temperamental? All this jumping around may be taking its toll — more of us are saddled with college debt well into our late-20s, and switching jobs often means starting off at the bottom. Maybe that’s why 60 percent of parents are providing financial support to their adult children after they’re out of school. This data is from an online poll commissioned by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), in cooperation with Forbes.com, and conducted by Harris Interactive in May 2011. According to the survey, 50 percent are providing housing, 48 percent are helping with living expenses, 41 percent are aiding with transportation costs, 35 percent are providing insurance coverage, 29 percent are handing out spending money, and 28 percent are helping with medical bills.
How should post-college Christians respond to desires or opportunities to switch jobs or even careers? Are there principles (biblical, financial or otherwise) to guide them in making these deliberations?
Be Faithful in the Now
Work is an important area of our lives — and one in which we ought to glorify God. Our witness at work is impacted not only by our words but by our actions. Shoddy work does not make a name for Jesus. Whatever we do, we should strive to do it as if we were offering it directly to Jesus Christ (because we are, Colossians 3:23). Every legitimate line of work is of equal value in God’s eyes, because every type of employment can be an expression of worship to God and love to neighbors, to whom we provide a product or service that enhances their life (even if that product is obscure research that only a few today understand).
If you lack integrity — if you come late, leave early or do a lousy job — you’re stealing from your employer. You’re being a liability rather than an asset. Your employer rightly expects a return on the investment of hiring you.
What if you hate it? Recognize that faithfulness today prepares you for tomorrow, and that there are probably some parallels between your current duties and what you really want to do someday. So look for them, and make the most of the present situation.
Bear in mind that accomplishment in one job can help you land a better job and succeed in a better job — even something totally different, because the kind of person you become in the path of faithful service is the kind of person who, in general, is more likely to succeed in future endeavors. Even a menial job at Starbucks can teach you principles of customer service, accounting and marketing — if you look at it not just as a “grunt job” but as a launching pad to something better.
But It’s OK to Want Something Else
Jon Acuff, author of the recent book Quitter, is right: “If you get great at what you hate, that means you get to do it more often, and that’s not success, it’s a punishment.” Being a faithful employee doesn’t mean you kill yourself. Know the difference between “good enough” and “this won’t cut it.” Put in an honest day’s work, but use your free time for intentionally chasing what you really love.
The Bible tells us to be content (Hebrews 13:5) and thankful (Colossians 3:15) in all circumstances. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to improve our situation (get a better job, marry a girl, buy a house, etc.). In 1 Corinthians 7:21, Paul tells Christian slaves to “not be concerned” about their status (i.e., to be “content”), but to gain their freedom if possible. Put another way, contentment is never an excuse for passivity, inactivity or lack of ambition. We should work hard in our jobs — thankful for the God-given gift of employment — even as we seek a position that is more aligned with our passions. So what should we do, practically, to get there?
1. Work on our passions so that we get better at what we love. In a world where everyone gets a trophy in Little League for showing up, we need to remember that saying we’re good at something doesn’t make it so. How many people who try out for the show “American Idol” could actually sing for a living?
I’m not saying it’s hopeless. I’m saying use the stability of a day job to get better at your hobby without the pressure of needing it to pay the bills. If it’s photography, take a class and do some volunteer photo shoots for friends and families. Get feedback from those farther along in the field. Work hard at improving. When you think you’re ready, start charging for your work. Build your customer base.
As time goes on, look at the cash flow you’re bringing in on the side. You may not know if God is leading you to quit your day job, but you do know what God has revealed in His Word. One of the reasons we work is so that we can pay the bills and, rather than become a burden to others, have money left over to share with those in true need (Ephesians 4:28). So don’t quit your day job until you can truly make a living in this new career, especially if others depend on you financially. It may take some time, but that’s OK. Better to start your dream job fresh, on a good foundation.
2. Consider if formal education would be advantageous. The photography example could also apply to singing, writing, acting, dancing, web design, tutoring or consulting — anything in which you are the boss and the product. But let’s say you’re a junior high teacher, but your passion is religious liberty in the Middle East. You’ve got a couple ways to go about it: You can volunteer with organizations that champion that cause while reading respected books on the history, politics and culture of this region. Or you can apply to a graduate program, work hard for a few years, and now you’ve got a significant credential to access work in diplomacy or the like. (There are financial implications here, of course, and those should be considered.)
My point is that some careers can be accessed with creativity, freelance and hustle, but others require all that and formal training. When I was an engineer, I picked up freelance tutoring work. I found that people would turn down free help at their colleges to pay me instead. I loved helping people learn, and I missed being in an academic environment. So after a year or two of deliberation, I applied to graduate schools, completed a Ph.D. and am now a full-time professor. I could have been a tutor, but I needed a Ph.D. to be a professor.
3. Get feedback and seek mentors. Life is lonely — and hard — for lone-rangers. Pursue your dream job in the context of community. Friends and family can be great sounding boards, and they can protect you from making nutty, impulsive decisions. They can also help check your motives. Dream jobs can become consuming idols if we’re not careful, wreaking havoc on marital, family and spiritual life.
And beware of poor motives, like the desire for fame and fortune. There’s a subtle yet significant difference between seeking to make a name for yourself and seeking to make a name for Christ — between godly ambition and selfish ambition. Others can help you see when it’s becoming all about you. Aim for excellence, not popularity; faithfulness, not fame. If popularity and fame come, thank God for the greater platform, and know that to whom much is given, much is expected. But the love of praise is a snare and a cruel master (Proverbs 29:25).
4. Don’t idolize changing careers. Yes, work hard and work smart. Do what you can. But unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). I know a young Christian who dreamed of being a professional baseball player. He was an incredible athlete (the best I’ve ever known) and did all the right things. It just never happened, and it crushed him. What began as an admirable pursuit became an all-consuming idol.
But the God we serve is bigger than our passions, noble as they may be. So grow in Christlikeness even as you chase that dream job, knowing that He holds the future and can be trusted.
We should consider the extent to which our current job is aligned (or not aligned) with who God has wired us to be. Ours is a mobile economy, and we should feel the freedom to pursue a position that will better “play to our strengths” — to how God made us. When we love our work, we ultimately do better work. Since all legitimate work by Christians honors God, if it’s done for His glory and the good of others, it makes sense to figure out what really makes us come alive and to find a way to get this kind of job, if possible.
But we should honor God in the process by never stealing from our present employer and never presuming that God “owes us” something better. Rather, we can responsibly pursue our dream job even as we work our day job. And we can trust God for the results, being content and thankful today even as we strive for a better tomorrow.
Copyright 2012 Alex Chediak. All rights reserved.