As a career counselor, I could give you my best shot at a 10-step formula for how to discern a career change or job move. But I’d rather step out of the role of “expert,” and simply share how it happened for me, along with a few lessons I learned along the way. My guess is this will be more helpful than a formula—it’s certainly more personal.
One of the clearest signs God was calling me to change careers came not from Scripture but from stubbing my toe. Hard. Even as I pounded my fist and cussed a blue streak, I knew something besides my big toe was terribly wrong—I just didn’t know what. This happened one morning on my way to the shower, and though I can walk just fine now (it’s been eight years), my life has never been the same.
The night of the toe-ramming incident, I sat down to write God a letter. “Could it be I simply need a major change of scenery, or more to the point, a major change in life direction?”
In one swift sentence, my blind spot was gone, and in its place, a thousand questions. Where would I move? What would I study? (I had been thinking about grad school, but nothing had clicked, at least not in West Michigan, where I lived.) Where did I want to end up? What would I do with my business? My office? My house?
I knew one thing—I was tired of writing about 401(k) plans, even though I now had a book out on the subject. As a professional writer, I was also tired of interviewing experts. I wanted to become an expert—at what, I didn’t know yet.
Lesson learned: Career satisfaction is one of the biggest drivers of personal fulfillment—a noble aim if we seek the Kingdom first, a complete dead end if we don’t.
I spent the next six months praying the biggest prayers I knew how, studying Scripture (both alone and in community), reading, writing in my journal, soul-searching, listening to soul-searching music, talking to friends and family, researching graduate programs, and of course, writing about 401(k) plans. My favorite verse during this time: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV). Yes, eventually.
It was a time of enormous growth, along with enormous headaches—not to mention tears, relationship upheaval, disappointment and dead ends.
I think when any sincere Christ-follower is contemplating a career change, the tendency is to automatically assume we’re being called to work in a church, or a leper colony. I looked at studying theology, and I looked at being a spiritual director. I toured a school in St. Louis, and checked out another in Steubenville, Ohio. I quickly figured out I needed to get farther away—and if I were going to uproot my life, I may as well upgrade to better weather.
Through a series of events “too odd not to be God,” several doors closed behind me. The doors that opened led me to the graduate counseling program at the University of San Diego.
Lesson Learned: Mother Teresa had her calling, you have yours. In the words of Frederick Buechner, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I believe the fruit of such a calling is joy.
Yet even after I got accepted to USD and mailed in my enrollment fee, the challenge was far from over. In some ways, it had just begun. Try telling your Midwestern, conservative, business-minded family that you’re moving to California (strike one) to go to grad school (strike two) to be a counselor (strike three).
"But I’m going to be a career counselor,” I would say. The whole thing was a little odd to me too, yet I felt absolutely confident this was God’s calling—not simply a plan I had come up with and asked God to rubber-stamp.
Family support was there, but so were a few slings and arrows. It helped that my mother had returned to grad school later in life, and my brother Jim and his family had been living in San Diego for years. If they could survive, so could I.
Lesson Learned: Some of your close relationships may need renegotiating. Hang in there. Meanwhile, just let people have their reactions—and keep praying.
The first semester of grad school was heaven. I knew I was in good hands when I sneezed on my first day of class, and four people I didn’t know said, “Bless you.” At the end of that semester, for the first time in my life, I would earn all A’s on my report card. My friend Kathy, who was getting her doctorate, said, “There really is nothing like kicking a– in school, is there?”
Fast-forward to the second semester—the experience is no longer new, and the end is nowhere in sight. I’m stressed out, and I don’t know why. Then my multicultural issues instructor tells us about Oberg’s stages of culture shock, and I realize, I am so over the honeymoon.
Lesson Learned: “This too shall pass” applies to bad times and good. The key is to roll with it, instead of quitting or clinging to a former stage.
So many good things happened in those two years of school. I made new friends. My relationships with family members changed for the better. I was able to spend some holidays with my brother Jim’s family. I discovered I could cook. I took a butt-kicking self-defense class. The bad days were few, but even on the worst day ever, I never for a moment regretted my decision.
Yet when it came time to look for a job, I decided to search in the Midwest, which turned out to be a good move. Thirteen days before graduation, Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., called to offer me a role in Career Services—a position for which I was almost genetically tailored. When they told me the amount of vacation time—four weeks, plus the week between Christmas and New Year’s, plus a handful of other holidays—I almost cried. After hanging up, I did.
Lesson Learned: God’s plans for us are good, but rarely final. Jobs change, circumstances change, but “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Amen.
Gina DeLapa is the director of Real-World Etiquette, LLC and an adjunct instructor in the University of San Diego graduate counseling program. Check out her new blog, BrightYoungProfessionals.com, or her company website, RealWorldEtiquette.com.