As followers of Christ, we often hear fellow believers talk about wondering what vocation they have been designed for, looking for a job in which to live out their calling, and seeking God’s will in the midst of a career change. Perhaps you yourself are currently in one of these places of discernment. In these times, the notion of “vocation” (from the Latin vocatio, or “to call”) is important to explore. There are lots of good materials out there on vocation (including this webinar with Dr. Jeff Myers). But for now let’s take a unique look at calling and career discernment by exploring four faulty statements to which we may patently subscribe without realizing it.
1. “God’s will is that I do a certain job; my task is to discover what that is.”
Actually … maybe not. In the webinar “Decision-Making and God’s Will,” Summit VP of Programs Eric Smith argues from scripture that we’ve missed the mark on what exactly the “will of God” is and means when it comes to vocational discernment. “God’s will for your life” is actually much less about what job you land and much more about obedience wherever you find yourself.
Should we still seek God in our decision-making about major life changes such as where to move, what to study, and what jobs to apply for? Absolutely! A faithful believer invites God into their lives every step of the way. But many Christians mistakenly equate seeking God with waiting on God. This waiting often looks like sitting back until the way forward becomes obvious and easy. But sometimes God’s answers to prayer are more subtle, and often what we are called to as Christians does not involve taking the easiest road. The inaction that results from this faulty logic can be devastating. As Summit President Dr. Jeff Myers explains in his lecture “Discovering Your Calling Through Your Design”:
Scripture says, ‘A man makes his plans, but God guides his step.’ Let me ask you a question. How is God going to guide your steps if you’re not moving anywhere? You have to get off of dead center and begin doing something.
2. “There’s one perfect job fit for each of us.”
You’ll be glad to know this actually isn’t true. According to some career discernment experts, there are dozens of vocations (especially when you consider options of paid employment and volunteer opportunities) that would be a good fit taking into account various combinations of your skills, interests, and personality traits.
And there’s always room to grow and change. According to jobsearch.com, average workers change their career 10-15 times over the course of their working life. So don’t be paralyzed by finding the perfect thing, right now. The best advice we can give is to learn enough about yourself to approach what would be a good general career area for you. (The Career Direct assessment, for instance, breaks all careers into five General Interest Areas: Doing, Helping, Analyzing, Expressing, and Influencing. Each of us probably has one or two of these areas that we are most suited to. This could be a great place to start!) The key is to start somewhere and not be paralyzed by inaction. Once you’ve picked a general field, do some recon work and gain info on various roles within that sphere (shadow someone, intern somewhere, interview a person who does a specific job you think you might like). Insofar as it’s possible, sample before you dive in. Then pick a direction and get going!
3. “I should study what interests me and go into whatever career that leads to.”
This approach sometimes works but often doesn’t. Many high school guidance counselors, for instance, ask students what subjects they did well in and then suggest studying more of the same in college. So if you did well in math — you could study engineering, if you did well in biology — you could go pre-med, and if you loved history — you can study … more history. But that simplistic approach doesn’t take into account why a student did well in those particular subjects (world’s best teacher? world’s easiest grader?) and why they didn’t do as well in other subjects (if they did poorly in English, for instance, could that have been aggravated by a dry textbook, a lackluster lecturer, or even a learning disability like dyslexia?).
A better approach to determining a course of undergraduate study is to look at what types of careers fit best (based on one’s skills, interests, personality, and values) and then study something that prepares folks to go into those fields.
4. “My paid employment is the primary arena in which to express my calling.”
Many of us hold to this view, though we may never have expressed it outright. What’s interesting about it, though, is that it makes two assumptions.
The first assumption is that calling is solely individual. But what if the primary aspects of Christian calling are corporate, shared between all members of the body of Christ? In his book Here I Am: Now What on Earth Should I be Doing?, Quentin Shultze contends that all Christians are called to a common vocation, namely — to be good stewards and caretakers of God’s creation. That said, we each have life stations (our present, unique, God-given domains of caretaking — including both work and relationships), which together form our “life calling.” In these areas, which notably extend beyond the realm of paid employment alone, we can express what we are uniquely designed for and positioned to do.
The second assumption is that the proper living out of one’s calling leads to financial remuneration. But what if that perspective comes more from the culture at large than the scriptures that guide us? It may very well be that you can get paid handsomely to live out of your gifts for the glory of God. It may also be that the work you find yourself in may not utilize many of your best talents but there’s room to use them in a volunteer setting. Pay or no pay, there likely is a way to do the things you’re made for.
Could you or your student use some help in discerning your design?
Summit brings students age 16 to 20-something Summit’s Ultimate Career Direct Package, an in-depth assessment and consultation service and accompanying vocational study that provides a window into their skills, interests, personality, and values — and helps them learn how to apply those new insights to college/career decisions.