From the moment I was able to speak, people asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
When I was 5 years old I grew ridiculously proud of a piece of art I had painted of the Sanrio Family of Pochacco, Pekkle, and Kerroppi sitting on a grassy hill with the sun shining down. Anyone out there familiar with Sanrio? It was after that painting that I decided I wanted to be an artist. I took my 5-year-old self and ran to my mom.
“Mom, I know what I want to be when I grow up.”
“Oh, is that so? Great! What do you want to be?” she responded in anticipation.
“I want to be an artist. Look what I made!” I handed her my painting.
Before she even saw my painting, she replied to me, “An artist? They don’t make any money.” (Who says that to a 5 year old?)
I toyed with more sensible ideas for the next 15 years of my life, such as psychiatrist, orthodontist, or optometrist, and when college hit, I faced having to decide on what I wanted to be when I grew up and choose a major. Still having no idea, I chose a path anyway because it was ingrained in me from a young age that I had to be something when I grew up, and, according to my Asian parents, something sensible.
Today, as I talk to college students and young adult peers day in and day out I hear loud and clear that most young adults are hungry to find meaning in what they do. They are either looking for a job—something to BE—that is significant and will impact the world for better, or they are stuck in a job that makes the bucks but causes them to be miserable because the job doesn’t seem as significant as they want it to be.
Questions buzz around: Am I in the right major? What kind of job should I look for? What do I want to do with my life? Is this job right for me? Should I change jobs? People are longing for job satisfaction and significance in their work, and while those are legitimate desires and legitimate questions, I would like to ask…why is there so much emphasis on what we do?
I don’t want to squash the nobility of wanting to have a job that impacts the world for better or discount the agony of having to work for an unsympathetic boss, but if there is one thing I learned during my last 5 years as an InterVarsity staff it is that we need to ask a different question.
Why is it that we always get asked, “What do you want to be” and not really asked, “What kind of person do you want to be?”
In college I focused so much of my mental and emotional energy trying to figure out if I wanted to be an orthodontist, a psychiatrist, or an optometrist, and looking back on it, I wish I had spent more time trying to figure out how to become a person of good character….how to be the kind of person that put others first, that can find joy in any circumstance, that is overwhelmingly generous, or that has grace and compassion on the people around me.
No matter what line of work you are in, there is something to learn and some way the Lord can use it to shape your character…but you have to be open to it. It may not be lessons in technical job skills, rather it may be lessons of learning to be faithful in mundane tasks, to practice having grace for your ridiculous supervisor, to learn to love co-workers who aren’t your favorites and are rather difficult to love, or to grow in patience through dealing with difficult customers.
My husband Benson spent a year feeling like a robot working for a company that didn’t even notice if he took naps in the middle of the day under his desk. It wasn’t Benson’s dream job, and it was rather life-sucking to be there, but that year was a growth period for Benson during which he let the Lord grow him in being faithful with little so that one day he would also be faithful with much.
I spent years in a job role that I was probably the least suited for. It required much of the opposite of my natural tendencies and strengths, and while it didn’t always make me feel alive, the Lord shaped my character in ways that changed the very core of who I am. I’m happy to have a different job, but I am forever grateful for who that other job made me become.
But even now as I’m in a job that I feel better suited for, I am STILL asking whether or not I’m in the right job, and I realized last night that my focus has been on the wrong questions.
My friend Chris Wheatley and I used to talk about how this generation wants to go out and change the world, and we seek to do so with a meaningful job. But perhaps another way the world is changed is by becoming people of good character. It happens by growing as a person of integrity so that someday you will become a good and faithful husband and father and reverse the ridiculous divorce rate in America. It happens by growing as a person full of compassion so that you will in some small way love someone who is unloved that will impact them more than you could ever know. It happens by becoming a person who can extend grace and patience as a reflex rather than as a discipline and unexpectedly melt someone’s hardened heart without knowing it. It happens by learning to be faithful in the very stupidest things that you hate doing so that one day, when you need to be, you will be prepared to be very faithful with much.
I lost sight of that over the last year or so. I spent more time figuring out if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing–what I was created to do–and not enough time figuring out if I’m becoming who I’m supposed to become. Have I been learning servanthood, humility, and obedience in the small things in life? I’m not sure, because I’ve focused more on whether or not this job was working for me.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying to stop the search for a job that makes you feel alive. I am, however, asking us to start focusing a little less on WHAT we are doing and a little more on WHO Jesus is trying to help us become through what you do, whether you are happy with what you do or not. I honestly think Jesus is less concerned about what job we end up in and is more concerned with who we are becoming in the process.
So…who are you becoming?