I wrote the following article for a website targeted toward young adults, especially those who might be in transition from college to career. I’d been percolating on the topic for a while and I enjoyed the opportunity to blend my thoughts together and create a fully brewed idea. That analogy would mean a lot more to me if I liked coffee.
“I feel like such a failure,” my friend Lucy told me over the phone. “I got my degree in music ed and now I’m a bank teller. My college education was a complete waste of time and money.” “You are not a failure,” I assured her. But beyond that, I wasn’t quite sure what to say. In the days that followed I thought about what I’d like to say to my friend, and to others struggling with the fact that things haven’t gone as they’d hoped after college.
1. College is about more than career training. Yes, most of us attend college to prepare for a specific vocation. But it doesn’t take long to realize there are a host of other life lessons we pick up along the way. How to get along with difficult people. How to organize your time. How to depend more fully on God. I even learned how to crack an egg with one hand while working the breakfast shift in the college cafeteria. Think about the friends you made, the challenges you overcame. The benefits of college go beyond preparing us for a job. So don’t measure the “worth” of those years solely by your rung on the corporate ladder.
2. You probably won’t be in this job forever. My father worked for the same company for 40 years. That was fairly common in his era. But it’s not so common today. The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that people change occupations about every five years. My husband, for instance, studied broadcasting in college and worked in a radio station after graduation. Then, after discovering how much he enjoyed teaching a class of junior high boys at church, he went back to college to become a math teacher. After a few years teaching he decided he’d be better suited to a business environment and spent the next 20 years in information technology. So if you’re unhappy with the job you have now, remind yourself that you likely won’t be in that job for 40 years.
3. Find another way to put your education to work. Lucy—a trained music educator—could fulfill her passion for teaching by volunteering. I suspect her disappointment about not being a high school choir director would be softened if she volunteered to lead a children’s choir at her church or if she helped out at an after school music program at an inner-city school. Instead of bemoaning the job you don’t have, ask yourself what you could be doing with your non-work hours that might put your hard-earned college education to work.
4. God is more concerned about who you are than what you do. This is the most important thing I’d say to Lucy. As I read the Bible, I find scores of verses about good character and much less about career choice. God values honesty, compassion, kindness, . . .
- Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you (Psalm 86:11).
- For God saved us and called us to live a holy life (2 Timothy 1:9).
Even when Scripture does talk about our jobs, it emphasizes how we work, not what we do:
- Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving (Colossians 3:23, 24).
I sincerely doubt our loving heavenly Father shakes His head at Lucy and says, “Too bad she’s not a music teacher.” No—He’s looking for things like how she treats her clientele, how she relates to her co-workers, how her words reflect His character.
This reminds me of a trip my husband and I took to Africa several years ago to visit my husband’s sister and her family who were missionaries. They lived on a remote, mountain compound with a hospital, a Bible school, and a church. One day we toured a row of cement block rooms that housed the Bible school students. The rooms were bare—no beds, no desks, no electricity. But my sister-in-law told me that these rooms were a huge step up from the mud shacks these students usually called home.
Throughout that trip, as I observed the contrast between my affluent American lifestyle and the simple ways of these African believers, I realized pleasing God had nothing to do with laptop computers or clever word combinations—the tools of my trade as a writer. Whatever God “required” of us as His children had to be something that could be accomplished in this simple village, in a busy urban center, or a quiet farming community. When I returned home I read the Bible with new curiosity—what does God require of me?
- Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27).
- But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44).
- Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).
- . . . live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10).
Over and over again God talks to us about the way we treat people, doing good, getting to know Him, bearing fruit—things that have nothing to do with occupation.
It’s easy to say those things, even believe them mentally. It’s harder to embrace them when you spend 40 hours a week doing something that doesn’t fulfill or satisfy. But don’t give in to the temptation to measure success by your job. Success is living your life—the whole of your life—in a way that pleases God.
Whether you’re a music teacher or bank teller.
And that’s what I’d tell Lucy.
This article originally appeared on the NavConnect website, a ministry of The Navigators. http://navconnect.navigators.org/2010/12/08/success/ Used with permission.