All my life I’ve been told, “What you do isn’t who you are.” I think that’s solid wisdom. As an editor, writer and stay-at-home parent, I do my best to find my value outside of the daily tasks I perform and the content I create.
That said, in recent years I’ve felt increasingly drawn to pick up work that matters to me. I select jobs based on how well they fit my personal mission to represent Christ and encourage fellow believers. I also choose work that adds to my overall sense of well-being.
I think this concept would have been foreign to my dad back in the day. I was raised by an accountant, who made it clear his work was primarily a means to provide for his family. While I always remember him liking his job, he found meaning outside of the office by playing his guitar at church, hiking, participating with his daughters in community theater, and caring for the home and yard. He didn’t expect his day job to be the thing that made life worth living.
A generation’s vocational shift
While our parents and grandparents may have seen work as simply the thing that “pays the bills” and sets you up for retirement, there seems to be a clear shift in perspective among younger generations. Digiday reports:
The professional workforce, particularly millennials (aged between 25 and 40 years old) and Gen Z (up to 24 years old), is increasingly rejecting the concept of a full-time job and a single boss in favor of something that’s being dubbed “polywork,” or having multiple jobs at once.
A study of this blooming workforce by a new social network, also called Polywork, found that 55% of the 1,000 workers it polled, aged 21 to 40 years old, said an exciting professional life was more important than money. Just 35% said they could envision sticking with a single job for life, while nearly 64% said they already were doing more than one job or hoped to in the future. More than 70% of those surveyed believe the pandemic accelerated the trend.
I have seen this in my friends, many of whom have a side hustle — or even a thriving business — that is unrelated to their primary vocation. And I think the pandemic gave workers time to explore other skills. One friend who works in marketing and graphic design has also recently established a successful woodworking business. It’s been amazing to see her apply a different set of talents to create beautiful, in-demand things while still continuing on in her main career.
Overall, I think the concept of polywork is beneficial and even biblical. Ecclesiastes 5:18-19 exhorts humans to find enjoyment in their work during this relatively short life.
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil — this is the gift of God.
What better way to “rejoice in toil” than to diversify and do work that fulfills and excites? After all, life is too short to spend hours each week doing something you hate.
Here’s an example: When I had been working as a children’s magazine editor for four years, I was beginning to feel a little bored. That’s when I submitted my first article to Boundless. Through my years of editing for children — a job I loved — Boundless gave me the opportunity to write about singleness, Christian dating and other topics I was passionate about. My side gig fueled my passion for my 8-to-5 job.
A caution for quantity
One downside I see of polywork is how easily it can turn to workaholism. Multiple jobs can make a person feel overloaded. We have to be diligent to ask: “How many side gigs is too many?”
There was something golden about my dad going to the office each day at 8 and returning at 5. He had dedicated hours at work and dedicated hours for his personal life. On weekends he could meet a buddy to play basketball, go to church with his family or even take a nap. Today’s workers have a harder time keeping their work and home lives separate.
At times I have had too many “jobs” going at one time and have come close to burnout. I have not been there for friends because I’m too busy. I have experienced physical symptoms of stress from being maxed out. Even if you’re not in a relationship right now or caring for a family, the work habits you sow today will reap a harvest in your future personal life. Going back to the passage in Ecclesiastes — the book that proclaims there is “a time for everything” — the Scripture clearly says that toil is only one part of the equation. The other part is enjoying the gifts God has provided.
Polywork offers the promise of a custom-made work life that is fun and fulfilling. The key to realizing that promise is learning to balance work, play and rest, while looking to God to discover your ultimate purpose.
Copyright 2021 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.