What are you doing after you graduate? What is your major? What do you plan on doing with that?
These questions come in countless forms, asked by a myriad of people during your college life, spanning from your uncle at Thanksgiving your freshman year of college, to your coworker at your summer job after sophomore year, to the seniors you are just now meeting in your major. Depending on your major, people might like to make your future a guessing game. “Do you want to teach? Do you want to work in a business? Or do you want to live with your parents until you’re 40?”
Questions about your future come as a barrage against your defenseless self, or for those of you who actually know what you want to do, a welcome opportunity to share your passion. If you are nervous about the impending graduation, there are online articles and blog posts that might comfort you by stating clichés about how you will be fine, or about how you just have to follow your dream, or just to be yourself. On the opposite end, there are other articles about how you should not try to be yourself unless you are Oprah Winfrey. When I get to the end of my life, or even the end of a work day, I want to know that my work mattered beyond the paycheck I earned.
If you look up statistics about working in America, you will find that Americans will, on average, spend 10 years of their life at work, that’s almost about 12 percent of the average American lifespan, and if you consider the amount of time that is spent thinking or stressing about work, that figure would rise even higher. Work matters in life, not only because what you do subconsciously shapes your identity, but also because you will spend a considerable amount of time on the job.
If a general online search offers any merit, then businesses are often confused about our generation’s approach to work. The reason is simply that our generation is more aware of how work affects our lives outside the realm of finances. We want our work to matter, and as Christians, that desire should be in our nature.
This summer, the pastor at my home church started a sermon series covering Ecclesiastes. Heading into my senior year of college, terrified about what my future held, I realized the relevancy of Solomon’s words in a culture where materialism, wealth, and fame are glamorized, and the cost of such goals pass by unnoticed or ignored.
The model for work the current capitalist system typically follows is a path of ascendance in which the goals are promotions and a larger paycheck to fund your hobbies, style of living and entertainment in order to pass the time when you are not at work.Some of our selfish material desires are more obvious, such as buying a nicer car, a nicer house, or a motorcycle. Still, there are smaller ones that tend to go unnoticed such as trendier clothes, hip restaurants and organic coffee.
The smaller items add up, but they are also easier to justify. I can give up my dream to buy a motorcycle, but I do not think I can drink Folgers coffee in the morning for the rest of my life. Yet even this summer, I found myself considering job paths focused entirely on gaining more money that would allow me to live a comfortable life, even though I knew that such paths would eat away at my soul and provide no satisfaction to my life. The desires we choose to pursue will always fall short of our expectations, as Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 5:10, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income.” If our purpose for work is not financial, then what is it?
Solomon provides his answer in Ecclesiastes 5:18: “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.”
The aim, then, is simply to find work that you enjoy and brings you satisfaction. Solomon continues in verse 20 by writing that the worker who rejoices in his toil “will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” What a beautiful balance our lives could possess if we managed to separate ourselves from the toil of the working culture and turn our focus beyond money, entertainment and fame.
Apart from God, searching for meaning in your work is sage advice because it can help relieve the stress and dissatisfaction in a major part of your life. With God, however, finding a job that you enjoy and that offers meaning becomes necessary rather than just a helpful tip. Our lives as Christians are supposed to reflect “a higher calling”, and we must follow “the will of God”, but these platitudes often fail to establish why or how, and I fear that we miss the importance of finding meaningful work.
There is a common American saying, “If you find a job you like, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” I fear that phrase gets mistakenly assimilated into following “the will of God.” Meaningful work goes beyond the easy and simple, it should be hard work. In the end, there is little difference between meaningful work and purposeless work. They will both provide stress, they will most likely be hard, but if your only justification for work is the paycheck, then for what are we living? Above all, though, we must make our work good, even in a job, or a class, or a chore that offers little purpose. In Psalm 90, Moses prays to God for favor and to “establish the work of our hands upon us.” As many of us plan to graduate this year, no matter the paths we follow, we must make it good, and we must try to find purpose in our work in the time that is given us on this earth.
Adam Pittman is a senior English major and Just Sayin’ columnist for Cedars. Among other things, he avidly enjoys reading, the outdoors, coffee, and soccer.
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