"Go ahead and call a few on this list and I'll come check on you in a bit." My new manager handed me a headset as she spoke and walked out the steel door. I sat down, staring at the catalog and the stack of over-xeroxed price lists, company history and FAQ's. Out of nowhere, I began weeping.
I needed the work. The pay was far more than the work in radio I had been doing, and the rock-n-roll, anything goes culture hadn't been great for my new faith and morals anyway. This is an improvement, I tried to convince myself as I strapped on the headset and wiped my eyes.
When you need a job, you don't often get the luxury of doing what you always dreamt. I often encounter men and women who put their families in a bind because, even in the absence of income, they continue to hold out for the career of a lifetime. On the other side, I have a lot of respect for those people who do what they gotta. I have a buddy who, when hard times fell, worked four jobs for a season. It sucked. But they dug out because he put his dreams on hold to do what needed done. They key is what we mean when we say "need". Some I know have real needs. They're broke. This isn't a disclaimer, it's an acknowledgement of real people. Yet, more often than not I observe most of us having a high-cost way we decide we want to live, a want typically rooted in the soils of comparison with others, and then we come to need accordingly. Thus, we enslave ourselves, having to take jobs based on income.
I wept not because it was hard work. I wept because I wasn't in any way connected to the work and didn't want to be. I didn't care about what I was doing. I didn't care about the mission of the organization. Alas, I put on my headset and did it. I got promoted a month later to a room with windows and my income nearly doubled. I forgot soon after I didn't care about any of it. But I still didn't.
He who tills his land will have plenty of bread,
But he who pursues worthless things lacks sense.
I want to stress again that there are, for most all of us, seasons and years where doing something you're soul feels connected to is more a luxury. I understand this. But how much less a luxury might it be if we lived our own life, rather than trying to keep up with others'. How much more happiness is there for people who work according to their own design, rather than the template handed to us by others? How much more happiness is there for us when we do what we're wired for, rather than what keeps us from veering from the well-trodden, secure path?
But Steve I'd be poor.
Really? Is there anything richer than un-enslaved people being what they are all their waking hours? Even if you had to move to a simpler place, in a simpler house, and lose whatever this crazy competition is we've all signed up for; is there anything less poor than a man or woman living their week in accord with what they actually are?
"And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil...The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it." Genesis 2:8-15
Here is Adam- made from earth. Made for earth. And he's working! His life has only just begun and God thinks he'll find Edenic pleasure in a job! He can find it because he's being what he is. He can look a tree in the eye and say I know where you’re coming from. Me too. In fact he can say this to all the animals (Gen 2:19). He’s connected to his work because he understands he is connected to his world and his work is about his world and where it’s going. Adam was made to work and keep the garden*, not do work under duress so he can buy stuff with the little bit of time and energy he has left and wish retirement came sooner.
For you it doesn't have to be a garden. And it probably shouldn't be done naked. But do you see the heart of the story under the details? Adam is doing for a living what he was made to do, based on his awareness of what he is how the world works, not simply what he's forced to. He's free.
To my young brothers and sisters. High school. College. When you choose what to do with your lives based on keeping a soulless cultural machine running, you will be miserable, even if you forget you are because of the income. The machine doesn't dispense the rewards it promises you for becoming part of it. You are made of soil after all, not metal. You simply weren't made to love what you don't, no matter the compensation. Find a way to honor your parents and what you really are, and find work that is meaningful to you, not just lucrative. Don't strive for money, or security, or cars or houses. Work at something that matters to the most mature part of you. If what matters to you happens to come with a large income, praise God. But don't avoid the field if the pay is comparatively terrible. I promise you you'll never be poor if you do what you are. And I promise the world becomes a better place when people work from their own heart, not someone else's.
To parents. As you guide your children to think of work and their careers, make sure it isn't all duty and responsibility. Those are obviously critically important, but those things are osmotic and are mostly transferred to children by example, not words. Some of the most unhappy people I speak with are those who tell me they do what they do because their parents outlined success for them, even against their actual wiring. There's little to be gained by someone choosing a career field for the financial gain. Even if you find it threatening and strange, help your kids choose something that resonates with what they actually are. And they'll be free. One of the highest parental reviews is raising children who turn out free.
To everyone else. If you're already in a job that drains you more than it fills you because, ultimately, it has nothing to do with who you are, step carefully. But take steps. Think soberly about what holds your feet to the fire. You may find, like so many people have, that their entire life is secured to the tether of their mortgage. Easier blogged than done, but would you be willing to move if it meant you could be freer? What emotional, or even logical hurdles pop up when you entertain that? Or entertain a quality, but less expensive car(s)? What is it that gives you the sense you're trapped doing what you're doing? It may be legitimate. It may simply be the season you're in. In that case, do it exceedingly well. (Colossians 3:23, Ephesians 6:7) But you may find other reasoning. Or no reasoning at all. Terrifying as it may seem, you may have more control over the situation than you realized. You can take the blue pill and go on variously miserable and resolved most of your waking hours, or the red pill** and start living the story God wired you for, even if others think you're nuts for all that comes with a decision of that countercultural magnitude. Have the conversation, especially with the others in your home, and make a plan.
That's enough for now. Back to work.
* In the Hebrew "work" is abad. This word means service, and actually puts Adam in a very humble role toward his environment. He doesn't dominate it, but serves it out of an understanding of it. "Keep" is shamar, which means to observe, watch-over. This not only has huge implications for what it means for spiritual people and how they treat the environment, but also in thinking about our careers. Can we find work we believe in if we're not the leader who's gazed upon by others, but are the server and the observer.
** If you haven't seen The Matrix, this reference may make little sense. Rest assured, I am not advising people feeling miserable navigate their situation with color-coded pills.