Recently, I was speaking to undergrad students about careers when someone asked, “Were you able to find a position that matched your area of special interest?” I shared that I am, in fact, blessed to be able to do important and interesting work that I enjoy. But I also wanted students to know that there are some job-related responsibilities that I don’t necessarily enjoy, but that I have to do anyway. Some bright, eager students I’ve known over the years have had the impression that there was a dream job—one that they would love and get paid to do—waiting for them after graduation. I’ve tried to encourage them to find a job that they liked and that was a good fit, but at the same time to be realistic about their prospects and not romanticize potential careers.
Cassie, a friend whom I knew when she was in grad school and who is now a PhD colleague, shared that the perfect job fallacy can sometimes be compounded in Christian circles. Young people have been told, “God has a plan for your life.” God does indeed have a plan, but it won’t always be entertaining, exciting, or world-changing. Genesis 3 tells us, “The ground will sprout thorns and weeds, you’ll get your food the hard way, Planting and tilling and harvesting, sweating in the fields from dawn to dusk…” (the Message). Today, few of us in the western world have to do subsistence farming, but it is still a good reminder that work is a part of life.
Here are a few suggestions to help in your job search:
First don’t try to find your identity in a career, find your identity in Christ. You do this through honest conversations with God, spiritual reflection, studying the Bible, and serving others. I’ve previously shared this quote from one of my seminary professors that I find helpful:
It is more than what you know, what and where you have studied, and what skills you’ve developed. Ministry (doing) flows out of being. Deeper humility also results from finding one’s identity in Christ. Crosscultural servanthood arises out of your very identity in Christ, not your academic training or professional skills.
Second, try to avoid paths that are not right for you. This means being cautious to not get locked into a soul-crushing job, just because you’re trying to live up to perceived expectations from parents, teachers or friends. I had a very intelligent college friend who started out in Engineering. While it is a fine career for many people, he never really enjoyed the field, and seemed to have pursued it more out of family pressure than personal interest. After a few years, he switched to Forestry and was much happier.
Third, realize that it is extremely rare to find a job that is a perfect fit. More likely, at least at first, your job prospects will be somewhere in the middle. You may find a job that you find interesting, but that you don’t necessarily love. Earning a paycheck is an important consideration—with living expenses, student loans, and perhaps thoughts of starting a family. A good job will hopefully have some aspects that you find fulfilling, but it will also have some qualities that you will find tedious or burdensome. That’s why it’s work. Stay positive. Don’t complain. If you end up moving to a different position, leave on good terms, with a reputation as someone who always had a good attitude, worked hard, did your best, and inspired others, no matter the circumstances.
My friend Cassie summarized it this way: “A new job may be different from what you expected. You may make mistakes, become frustrated, or worry about the future. God can use these challenges to draw us closer to Him. We can have peace through relying on God, trusting His timeline, and letting Him use us wherever we are.”
- If you could create a perfect “dream job,” what would it entail? (Please keep your answers rated PG.) Have you ever been tempted to romanticize a potential career? In what way?
- Do you know anyone who pursued a career out of perceived expectations from parents, teachers or friends? Explain.
- Describe ways you might stay positive and keep a good attitude, if you ever end up in a temporary job that is not be the best fit for you long-term.
 Stephen Hoke and William David Taylor, eds., Global Mission Handbook: A Guide for Crosscultural Service (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2009), 40.
About the author:
Tito Scott Santibañez is an adjunct professor at Emory University and Trinity School for Ministry. As a volunteer physician, he has provided medical care for underserved populations for nearly 25 years. He also has a doctorate from seminary.
Great post! I heartily agree. While it’s true that some will sense a ‘calling’ to a certain job or type of job, that kind of calling is not as common nor as central as our calling to Jesus. In some ways, a ‘perfect job’ may be as elusive as a ‘perfect church’ is. Every job, and every church, will have some aspects of it that are not ideal. Yet God is at work with/in us, renewing the broken and the imperfect.
Andy Walsh says
My current notion of a dream job is probably not far removed from the parameters of the MacArthur Fellowship – an income sufficient to cover living expenses while I follow my creative impulses wherever they lead.
As a biology undergrad student, I had several classmates who were pursuing careers as physicians based on a variety of external and internal drivers. Some of them realized even before medical school that such a track was a poor fit, and were much happier when they found a new direction. For that matter, I had plenty of folks encourage me to consider a medical career, but I knew myself well enough even at that age to realize I would not do well having to make decisions for others with fairly direct life & death implications.
I think most of us have a need to feel useful, that we are contributing in a worthwhile fashion. So even when the specific tasks of a given job might not be personally rewarding, if we can focus on how they meet a need or serve a purpose, that can help with keeping a positive outlook.
Tom Grosh IV says
Thank-you Scott! What a privilege to have you part of ESN’s insightful writing team.
As one called to ministry, making a commitment to serve with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA at the Urbana Student Missions Conference and raising my support for the past 22 years, at times I have found it difficult not to link my identity with my “career.” But through honest conversations with God, spiritual reflection, studying the Bible, serving others (head, heart, and hands), personal failings / humiliations, and the annual challenge of the close of the fiscal year (6/30), I have been reminded that I find my identity in and serve Christ first.
Although I could have gone a number of other paths (with ministry not on the list of expected careers) and I have faced significant challenges on this path, it is hard to express the joy which I find in encouraging and equipping undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and early career faculty as they navigate each stage of their academic vocation and transition to the next step in or beyond the academy. Thank-you for the timely encouragement to “stay positive” as I press toward the end of the fiscal year.
Maybe this is an annual time of testing to prove I truly trust in the Lord’s faithful provision. A difficult gift to receive . . . To God be the glory!