Arlene Dickinson, an investor on the popular reality show Dragons’ Den—here in the U.S., Shark Tank is a version of the same show—once said, “If you’re not getting up every day and loving your job, then why the heck are you doing it?”
That show cultivates a life in which inventors and entrepreneurs give up everything to pursue their dreams for the sake of turning it into a reality.
Our parents, teachers and even the media encourage us to achieve our dreams. The world sends cheesy one-liners about doing what you love. These slogans become mantras. We get high off of the idea of discarding our troubles in exchange for a carefree life full of fun and excitement that results from pursuing our passion.
I have definitely fallen victim to this societal trap.
Searching for our calling
Growing up in the church, the Sunday School stories like Noah’s Ark or Daniel and the Lion’s Den gradually evolved into sermons about “finding our calling” and “knowing God’s will for our lives.” We’re told that we’ll know what our calling or God’s will looks like when whatever it is we’re doing tapped into natural skills and talents.
And because these things bring us joy and excitement, I assumed that living out my calling was synonymous with being happy. Who doesn’t want to be happy? So off I went, in search of my calling.
I worked in and out of various jobs in multiple fields. I would begin each job the same way: with a child-like excitement and enthusiasm.
But as soon as things would start to get tough or I would have to work a little harder, I would come down from my high and start to feel doubt and depressed and I would quit. I left each job with the belief that that particular career path wasn’t my “calling”.
Over the years, we’ve come to glamorize this idea of work. We spend much of our lives devoting hours to earning degrees and gaining experiences that will ultimately lead us to where we hope and believe God wants us to be. In our search for that one thing, we often picture ourselves living these extravagant lives as we pursue the desires that God has placed on our hearts. We want to change lives and make national news with the impact we’ve made.
However, all too often the image in our heads of what living out a calling looks like couldn’t be more different from the reality that we are actually living. We’re not drawn to the stories we report, the kids we teach don’t listen and we end up not enjoying the work. Essentially, we’re not waking up every day loving what we do.
Coming down from the high
When life doesn’t match the image we had in our heads, we begin to feel discontent, discouraged and defeated. We become so fixated on the idea that our passion should fulfill us that we lose sight of why we started any of these things in the first place. These feelings have led some to continually search for more and to stray from where God wants them to be.
As Eugene Cho articulates in his book, Overrated,
We live in a culture where it has become easy and tempting to simply quit. It is easier for us to move on to the next thing … the next profession, the next calling … or the next conviction. Why? Simply because we can. We live in a culture of opportunity in which we’re encouraged to try new things … If we’re not careful … we’ll shrug off our responsibility of owning our decisions and pursuing our convictions.
In other words, we would rather quit and place our future in our own hands than continue to press on into the unknown. As a result, many of us choose a different path, convincing ourselves that what we initially set out to do was never our passion to begin with when really, we’re just too afraid, lazy or tired to finish what we started.
In this way, we let work dictate our choices and sometimes even our emotions. If work is going well, we’re happy; if work is not going well; we’re unhappy. In turn, we place our jobs on a pedestal and we treat work as an idol. We let work rule our lives and forget the One who rules over us.
There is no perfect fit
In pursuing our passions, many of us keep moving from job to job until we’re able to find the “right” one. But discerning our call is not like shopping for a shoe; there is no perfect fit. By doing so, we may very well be neglecting God’s plan. While we might believe that where we are isn’t where we should be, it could be exactly where God wants us to be. It is in our darkest and most challenging times that He trains us to build character. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
How will our lives ever bear fruit if we run at the first sight of difficulty?
When you work out for the first time, it can be challenging to persist through your first set of reps. The next day you’re left with sore muscles and feel nothing but pain. Not to mention you haven’t even lost any weight.
In the beginning stages of working out, it’s easy to want to give up and avoid the gym for good. But over time and with practice your body becomes stronger and you’re able to complete your workout with more ease.
Our work can be a lot like this. Often, we’re so focused on the results that when things don’t turn out the way he had pictured, we want to give up. But if we can persevere through these instances, we’re able to build up our endurance, strength and other characteristics that God wants us to use for His kingdom for “many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).
It took the Israelites 40 years before reaching the Promised Land; Abraham waited until he was 100-years-old before Isaac was born; and David had to wait 15 years before being crowned King. When it comes to God’s kingdom, there are no overnight successes.
Changing the way we measure ourselves
When we measure our success according to worldly standards, it’s easy for us to grow discouraged. Our students don’t do well on standardized tests so we doubt our skills as a teacher; our sales aren’t as high so we don’t believe marketing is the path for us; no one wants to publish you so you believe you’re better off working in a cubicle. While we were created to work, it was never meant to consume us. Work should be a means to an end, but most of us treat it like it is the end.
Like friends, family and relationships, our work and our passions are incapable of satisfying our deepest desires and filling the void in our hearts. Oftentimes we let our passion become our identity. So when this doesn’t pan out the way we had hoped, we don’t just doubt our ability; we doubt who we are and ultimately, who we are in Christ. Rather than pursuing your passion; pursue the One who gave it to you.
The two most fundamental ways of doing this is through scripture reading and prayer. It might sound like a line from the Christian handbook, but I cannot emphasize the importance of prayer enough. When you pray and when the people around you pray for you, it’s amazing what can happen and how quickly your attitude and your perspectives change for “when we work, we work but when we pray, God works” (author unknown).