I am pretty good at doing school. I attribute it to a wicked short-term memory. Thirty minutes before English class in the eighth grade I remembered a unit vocabulary test was on the deck. Had I prepared? Not one word. But thirty minutes is a long time, so I cracked open the bookand memorized all those words. Sickeningly, I got an A. Yes, I am that person.
(The other side of the coin, however, is that I don’t remember any of it. I have memorized epic poems, chapters of scripture, and lyrics of entire musicals, and I can’t recite an iota of it today. My husband, on the other hand, can tell you right now the phone number of his eighth-grade girlfriend. And as a party trick he can recite the entire “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy from Hamlet, which he also memorized in the eighth grade. Who said I am jealous?)
My ability to “win” at school set me up for a rude shock in seminary, however, but it had nothing to do with my studies. I was in an interview with the governing body of my church that would decide whether or not I would be ordained. As it went along, a woman I admired and looked to for vocational direction noted my strong academic performance in a way I did not particularly like. “Just get a ‘C’ and see how it feels,” she teased. She went on to counsel me that I would not grow by continuing to seek excellence but by being in ordinary situations with everyday people. Such an experience would help me relate more authentically to others.
Her barb pierced my soul; I was offended on so many levels (as perhaps you are in reading this account). To make matters worse, the committee directed me to an internship that was ill-fitted for me. It was the first time I worked a job that really frustrated me. The committee no doubt wanted me to learn from the experience, but the lesson I took from it was probably not what they intended.
Younique creates space for interpreting your story, and now I can see how this experience deeply affected me and my work trajectory. It was an important step on my path to my God-given vocation, my special assignment from God. It was a clue to the important truth that work can frustrate you, free you, or fulfill you.
Frustration is the feeling of being upset or annoyed because you cannot change or achieve something. My experience with this ministry internship early in my vocational journey was very frustrating. In addition to being upset and offended, I felt helpless because the ordination committee had authority over my future, but they didn’t see and appreciate the unique way that the Lord gifted me for ministry.
Yet frustration can be productive because it can direct us toward making helpful changes. Certain kinds of difficulties and obstacles can actually improve our performance. More than 3.7 million people have watched Tim Harford’s TED talk “How Frustration Can Make Us More Creative.” He tells great stories about how frustration in our lives leads to innovation. We seek to relieve the pain and pressure of frustration by solving the problem or driving change that generates an improvement. In my case, my frustrating experience was a big reason that I pivoted out of ministry and into business. So if you are in a job that frustrates you, embrace innovation. Look for the opportunity to be creative and find a new way forward, even if it doesn’t change your job title.
Sometimes our work frees us to pursue the unique call from God on our lives, but this opportunity is not often recognized. Today’s culture loudly tells us to devote the time and energy we spend at work to doing what we love. The implicit message is that if you are employed in a job that isn’t flashy or adventurous, you are somehow selling out. Dunder Mifflin, the fictitious company that was the setting for the hilarious show The Office, satirizes the experience of people who spend their days selling paper. One reason the show is so funny is because we have all experienced doing rote work that neither energizes us nor seems truly important to the world.
When I was in college, I got a job filing invoices and purchase orders into large filing cabinets for eight hours a day. (Yes, I am so old that I went to college before digital filing systems were commonplace.) But I was so very grateful for it! Why? Because it freed me to pursue my true call. I earned money for school by honorably showing up at work and doing the best job I could do.
Many of us faithfully do good, honest work by day that frees us to do what God calls us to do outside of our 9-to-5, whether for just a season or for a lifetime. I have met many people who are super-grateful for the work they have because it provides them the stability and financial resources necessary to pursue their true, God-given calling.
Nevertheless, our avocation—our hobby or fun space in life—may ultimately become our vocation, our day job. When we lived in California, I got to know a neighbor who started a successful surfboard company out of his garage. He loves to surf! He is energized by thinking about how surfboards can be shaped and optimized for various waves around the world. Dozens of boards are spilling out of his garage as he experiments and iterates with different materials and shaping processes. His interest in surfing and passion for the sport led him to a place where his avocation and his vocation became one and the same. Like my neighbor, your work can indeed fulfill you.
At Younique, we feature 7 Essential Skills of Life Design. The first one is to Engage Your Vocational Vision. We want to help each person to embrace four lifelong practices to maximize work potential and find that dream job. Whether your dream job frees you or fulfills you, it is possible to name it and take steps toward living it.
For me, I have come to appreciate that life is too precious and interesting to do anything just to “see how it feels.” Instead, I pursue my Younique call with the freedom and fulfillment that is offered to me.