Ryan and I just got back from a lovely week long vacation. We went to two weddings and spent our anniversary in Duluth MN. It was beautiful. It was so great to catch up with all our friends too! It was really fun to tell everyone how excited we are about life right now. We simply love the community that we are in here, and our jobs are great. Mine in particular, I’ve been telling everyone it is my “dream job”. It was great to hear exciting things from our friends too. People dating again, people getting engaged, preparing for marriage… and seeing the beautiful shining faces of dear friends as they said their vows.
Life is beautiful.
One conversation from the last week has haunted me slightly. I was telling this particular friend about all the great things happening in our lives right now and how happy we are, and expressing my excitement and congratulations on their engagement. Then, they said “Wow, its so amazing to hear so many success stories from our friends and see how well and happy everyone is” (paraphrased). I noticed a tinge of sadness and I realized that this friend wasn’t happy or feeling very fulfilled in their particular occupation. It reminded me that the vast majority of people don’t really love their jobs. Especially people in our generation who have just finished college and are struggling to pay back student loans and are just figuring out how to live on their own. Many of our friends are blessed to have fantastic jobs and live in great communities and have great supportive relationships. Some of our friends have not been so fortunate and I can imagine they feel a little left out.
All these thoughts lead to one ageless question: Why? Why are some happy and some not? Why are some people better off than others?
If you want me to give you an answer. I don’t really have a great one. I’ve experienced days of intense spiritual and emotional anguish and now I’m learning what it means to truly live in joy.
How did I find my dream job? A lot of people want to know the formula on how to find their “dream job”. For me, it started with never caring how much money I made. From the time I was a little girl I had set in my mind that I would never be wealthy. I love nice things, and I wouldn’t say no to extra cash, but something in me knew I wouldn’t be wealthy. It helped that my parents really instilled in me an appreciation of life that didn’t include a lot of fancy stuff. My dad spent quality time with us every evening and weekend. I’ve told him many times that I wouldn’t trade that for all the dance lessons or disney land trips in the world.
I watched a YouTube video by Sir Ken Robinson yesterday in which he talked about passion and unlocking passion in your life. He told the story of a young woman who was a well off concert pianist. Very accomplished. Who suddenly gave it up to become a book editor. When asked why, it was because, although she was very talented, she hated performing, and didn’t love playing piano. Her real passion was books and writing and being around writers. He said “She’s never been happier and she’s also never been poorer.” So you see, I think finding your dream job requires two foundations within ourselves: letting go of monetary and material motivations, and finding out what our deepest passions are.
My parents were really concerned when I majored in philosophy in college. But I took a risk, and I studied what I was really passionate about: seeking wisdom and truth and asking a lot of deep questions. At the same time, my freshman year, my parents basically forced my hand into signing up to work at the IT Helpdesk. Somehow, I think implicitly they knew I would be good at it and interested in the job, and they also knew it would just plain be good for me to have a job that would give me some good resume material. Mom and Dad know us best. Even if we don’t always agree with them!
After discovering bits and pieces of things you’re passionate about, which for me were: teaching, writing, administrating, education, using technology…etc… after discovering these things its really about talking to people (networking) and waiting for and then taking opportunities. This stage requires a lot of patience and prayer… and courage! I think most people don’t really find their dream jobs until their 40s. Sometimes its good for us to work and discover what isn’t our dream job before really finding it.
Another thing I’ve noticed about myself is what I can only best describe as my “diving in” attitude towards work. I’m not really sure where it came from, but I have this “all or nothing” attitude about most things in my life. I don’t “half commit” to things. Once I say I’m doing something, I’m all in. This goes for all my friendships and relationships and every area of my life. I think to some people this looks a little reckless sometimes. Oh well!
When I was 16, I took my first “real job” as a cashier at a grocery store. I remember orientation vividly. Lots of marketing about the company and how it was “employee owned” and the importance of each employee “owning” their position. I am the sort of person who craves excellence. I dove in and decided to be the absolute best cashier at Hyvee. I thought “Hey, I could be a manager. I’m gonna work up to that”. I never became a manager (silly 16 year old brain!), but I was a great cashier, and even though I hated standing all day and people were sometimes rude and I handled gross money and food all day, I was somehow proud of what I did. I owned it. I’ve taken that same mindset to every job that I’ve taken.
In college I read most of Studs Terkel’s “Working”. Its a book of interviews with workers from literally every field imaginable. From mothers to CEOs to miners to prostitutes. It was very interesting to say the least. I remember being struck by how the people who “owned” what they did were happy and those who were discontented were not happy. It really struck me that happiness is somewhat of a choice. So a few months later when I took a job in a cubicle, I chose to be happy there, even though I definitely didn’t love the work I was doing. Some jobs make happiness easy to choose, some don’t.
Once I had this “happiness is a choice” lesson down, I started turning my nose up in disgust at this generation that has been told to “follow their dreams” and “find their passion” etc etc etc crap. I decided that maybe to have a good and happy life, passion doesn’t have to be involved in an occupation. A person could have a very happy life serving his family by taking a desk job that he isn’t passionate about, and then after hours be diving into his hobbies and spending time with his real vocation: his wife and children. I think this is definitely true for many people.
I still think this is true, but since being here and being immersed in education, I’ve balanced just a tiny bit and I no longer turn up my nose at the “follow your dreams” jargon. I just raise my eyebrow and temper it a little bit. Ken Robinson describes finding out what your passion is by what makes you lose track of time. Of that activity that might make you physically exhausted, but leaves you spiritually energized. That’s your passion. Some people are fortunate to be able to make money doing what they are passionate about. Others need to make money so that they can live out their passions!
Why? Because money isn’t the end. A happy life is the end. True happiness is (as Aristotle described) the fruit of a long and full and virtuous life.
Now that I said “virtuous” my mind wanders slightly to think about the virtues related to work. Diligence is the first thing that pops into my mind.
The name “Emily” means “industrious”. I always hated that. But at the same time, I always felt this insatiable need to work hard. In high school I did more research on that word “industrious”, and I found its synonym: diligent. For some reason that word resounded in my soul and I’ve spent every year since meditating on it. Especially after I found the Latin root: “diligere”, to love or take delight in.
I prayed to become diligent. So I prepared to dig in and grit my teeth. And indeed virtue calls us all to that at times. But, true diligence, is Love. A deep powerful passion in our souls. If we dwell in that Love. We will find happiness.
I feel like I should be done with this post. Here’s a beautiful Scripture to meditate on if you are searching for that vocation and that dream job: