From Job to Vocation; Finding Meaning in Employment
Three men are found smashing boulders with iron hammers. When asked what they are doing, the first man says, “Breaking big rocks into little rocks.” The second man says, “Feeding my family.” The third man says, “Building a cathedral.”
Vocation has been quite the buzzword for the last decade. Between 1999-2003 a grant was provided by the Lily Endowment to 88 colleges and universities to establish programs to help their youth learn about vocation. Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary was one of them, and I was fortunate to attend the first session in 2004.
But what truly is vocation? Did I come out a master in all the ways of vocation? Certainly not. The CrossRoad program is only an introduction to high school juniors and seniors who are about to begin their career voyages.
Employment can be categorized by its employee into three categories:
Job: You punch in, do your task and punch out. The job is a means to an end. You work, you get paid, the money pays the bills. You absolutely live for the weekends.
Career: A career is goal oriented. The goal is to get to the top. You desire to be the best and to continue to advance yourself in every way possible in your current position.
Vocation: A vocation is employment in which you see how your position serves the greater good. You recognize how your work is affecting the people you serve.
The word vocation should never be this daunting word which carries the meaning of “church-work” which is for “select individuals” who “feel their calling” Vocation is, indeed a calling, but the calling in most cases the “calling” part will be only the whispers of the Holy Sprit and it is up to us to see how we are serving God and His people in our employment and transform that employment into meaningful work. It is up to us to step back and see the cathedral we are building, rather than focus on the rocks we are crushing for cement.
So how do we do it? It seems like the service-workers of the church have it easy. A priest serves his community, visits the sick, blesses homes and provides spiritual health to his parishoners. His wife supports him in his work and often participates in the activities of the church and provides maternal support as the mother of the church. Musicsians offer their gifts to serve the Lord and “pray twice” by singing. But what about the rest of us? Engineers, teachers, janitors, baristas? What part of our employment is meaningful?
I had hopes and aspirations of being a teacher. CrossRoad was the deciding factor between engineer and teacher for me because I could easily see how I could serve people teaching. There is a joke which says we make plans and God laughs. Teaching 4-5 sections of science classes 5 days a week simply was not God’s plan for me. I currently work as an hourly, certified employee at a high school tutoring whoever walks in for whatever subject in science or math. It is the best job I have ever had. Every day I get to help students work through their agony and frustration on a one-on-one basis. Many students who I see regularly I now consider to be “my students” The job has become so much more than tutoring. Students open up to me about their struggles in their home life, living in America from oppressed countries, cry over whether or not they are suitable for rigor and have come running in with excitement to tell me their most recent grade. I could never give the kind of focused attention to as many students in a regular classroom setting. I did it for two years and only had 2 or 3 students with these kind of drastic experiences. I work an hourly job, and sometimes up to 5 different jobs at a time, but it has been the best experience ever.
My father is an engineer. He also, could not have foreseen a career change at 53, but after surviving decades of layoffs, it was finally his turn. After an agonizing 9 months he finally found employment. He went from 10 weeks vacation to 2 and took a sharp salary cut because he was now a new employee. He has to drive over an hour some weeks and spends many nights on international phone calls which can last until 4 in the morning. Yet, my father could not be happier with his job. At least weekly he comes home and explains how he designed something to help the company run more efficently, or how he is stepping in as middle man to help his other employees work more effectively. I will see him working on something late at night on a weekend and he will explain to me that it is a new side-project of his, unassigned, that is going to help [technical language].
My husband has been working at Starbucks as a barista for the last 5 months. It was definitely the last thing in the world he imagined he would be doing. Especially after completing 3 years of seminary. Yet he has been able to transform his experience into one of personal relationships. Weekly he discovers a new customer who shares in the Orthodox Faith. His discussions with regulars have lead to help with profesional video editing for a project of his, providing a lecture on iconography at a protestant church, and hearing stories about Elder Paisios. He has drawn parallels to his work and the work of a priest. He even decided to begin his own blog to share some of his best Starbucks stories.
St. Paul explains exactly how everything we do is to be for the glory of God and the common good
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
~1 Cor 12:4-7
St. Paul later goes on to describe how we are all members of the body of Christ. A foot is no good without a leg, an eye is only part of a face with ears and a mouth. Likewise, our gifts are parts and together we are whole.
Lastly, a word about the CrossRoad program. Founded in 2004 through the Lily Endowment, the program has now served over hundreds of high school juniors and seniors in the Orthodox Church. Many of these students have gone on to pursue the careers they intended to pursue before the program, and many of these students have pursued seminary itself. Speaking for myself, three of the four girls I remained closest with have all either gone to seminary or have married a seminarian. The goal of the program was never overtly to draw students into the seminary, but it has inevitably lead students there at some point in their journey. The program is no longer funded by Lily and now needs the support of our Orthodox community.