What work CAN'T do for you
Those who know me best know that one of my great passions is helping 20-somethings with career and life path questions. One way I express this is by teaching a Calling and Career course for the Knoxville Fellows. (Part of The Fellows Initiative - www.thefellowsinitiative.org). I'm now at the place in the course content where we turn our focus to application of what we've learned (basically my career coaching made into a class) so that they can start networking and making applications for jobs. But before we go there I have one more concept to share -
You won't find what you're looking for in your work.
It's an audacious thing for a career coach to say because it could be taken to mean, "don't waste your time looking for a job that fits", but that's not what I mean. What I mean is that any of us has to have a degree of personal awareness and discernment when it comes to our careers. You have to understand all of the things that drive and motivate you when it comes to work, then approach your vocation with the right mindset.
I've worked with so many people who tell me stories of disappointment and disillusion with their jobs. Very often these are people who have had careers most of us would assume to be successful or satisfying - good pay, good companies, great relationships - but my friends tell me it all felt somehow hollow. The tangible and intangible things they got from their jobs still didn't answer their inner questions or quiet their inner discontent.
In my experience we all do things for one of 4 reasons: our wiring; our calling; our baggage; or, our pathology. The first two are core elements of our identity that, if understood correctly, guide us to live authentically from our original design. The second two are those things the life experiences and the voices that speak into our hearts and lives that distort that design and drive us to live from fear and insecurity. But, even if you're very self aware, grounded, and connected with the source of your authenticity you may still find work insufficient to answer the desires of your heart.
C.S. Lewis, the noted Christian author, once wrote, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."
Lewis was one of the brightest minds of his generation and an accomplished writer (his books still sell in the millions annually), professor, and public speaker, so when he admits to a lack of satisfaction in his work and other aspects of his life it's worth a pause to ask "why". I once heard noted author Timothy Keller say something similar - "Why is it that my sermons never come out exactly as I have them in my head and on paper?"
Rather than dismissing it as an artifact of life in our world, such as "the world's an imperfect place", or the fate of the naive and those who hopelessly chase ideals, there's a larger truth here. Our work is an expression of our selves. That expression may be grounded and authentic or it may be distorted and driven by inner demons, but it's just an expression of who we are.
Our Identity is something else altogether. Vocation is a place where we can express our identity, it is not something that gives (bestows) us our identity, nor should we look to it to help us define ourselves. As Lewis suggested, that has to start somewhere else.