I recently met a friend for coffee, and we spend a couple hours enjoying the air-conditioning and great conversation. Two things struck me about our time together- first, that fellowship is not only refreshing and enjoyable but also necessary, and secondly, that I am not alone in my confusion and concerns regarding the future. Talking with my friend reminded me that the worries about paying off student loans, managing car repairs when money is tight, determining a career path, figuring out living arrangements, and finding one’s calling in life are all a natural part of adjusting to life as an adult. There is no easy way to transition from the relative ease of youth- when parents pay for groceries and gas, and getting a date to prom is your most pressing concern- to the beautiful but brutal realm of adulthood, with its car payments, college tuition, career choices, relationship struggles, and identity crisis. There comes a time when you realize that in a few semesters time, having a job will not be simply your source of income for social activities and study-group snacks, but your means of survival. For all the choices that we young adults have to make, whether or not to have a career is one of them.
The realization that a career is nonnegotiable can cause panic in many college students. The search for the “perfect” job begins. Of course, no one will agree on precisely what makes a career right for someone, but like the inevitable necessity of a career, I have come to realize there is a nonnegotiable factor in choosing which kind of career one pursues. You must find joy and purpose in your work. You simply have to. A job without joy or purpose will drain you, and when your work leaves you depleted emotionally and mentally, the other parts of your life will suffer as well. Most people have been told often that they should choose a career that they love, doing something they are passionate about that makes them excited to go to work each day. I had an experience this summer that deeply reinforced that truth. I was lucky enough in this economy (with California’s wretched 12% unemployment rate) to find a job in May at a local retailer that sells body-care products. While having a source of income is a blessing I don’t take for granted, the work itself is truly dreadful. I dread each shift, count down the minutes while I am there, and leave work feeling as though my soul has had a bit of life sucked out of it. (This is my first time working in retail, and I guarantee you it will be my last.) Contrast this with the hostess job I got two weeks ago at a local Italian restaurant. I am excited for each shift, the work is fast-paced and exciting, and I never have to remind myself to smile. I love the interaction I have with each guest (and most coworkers), and I feel energized by my time at the restaurant. I leave each shift with a smile on my face and look forward to the next time I get to work.
The incredible contrast between my jobs has taught me how important it is to choose a career that you love. I understand that adulthood and real life come with responsibilities, and sometimes doing what you love is not enough to pay the bills. Of course it is important to consider financial stability when considering a career. But a job should not rob your soul while paying the bills. Your vocation may not be your calling, but it can and should be something that you find meaningful and enriching. I certainly do not think my calling nor career is in the restaurant business, but it is has taught me how I want to feel about any job I have from this point on. Everyone is unique, and what bores one person to tears will excite another like nothing else, so I do not think there is one, or five, or even twenty jobs that could be considered a standard for the “ideal” career. But there as many different kinds of work out there as there are folks to do them, so get out there. Explore. Figure out what makes you come alive. Then go do it.
There are plenty of choices we have to make as we launch from college into the real world- whether or not to be love what we do for the next 50 years should not be one of them.