A co-worker who is a generation my senior brought up an interesting point the other day. She was having a conversation with her youngest son, who is my age, and he said that our generation no longer stays at the same place of employment for a lifetime as our parents and grandparents did. We change jobs like we change channels on TV. In this day and age, when it comes to what we do, nothing is ever set in stone.
I know a thing or two about this. Through the past 10 years, I’ve been a fundraiser, youth minister, account manager, hotline operator, environmental educator, typist and layout designer, project manager, administrative assistant, and a singer/songwriter/singing teacher/entrepreneur. That’s not even counting the things I thought I wanted to be, like a fiction writer or a theologian or a hair accessory designer. I asked a friend of mine if he thought I was crazy and he said, “No, you’re just really enthusiastic.” It’s the best joke he’s ever told.
I’m not going to pretend to know anything about the psychology of my generation. I can barely figure myself out, as you can tell from the outrageous career turns I’ve taken through the years. But in the process of trying to find my way, I think I’ve figured at least one thing out: I’ve never had a “serious relationship” with any one job or career. I know what those are supposed to look like in the long run; financial stability, retirement, legacy, scholarship funds named after you…that kind of thing. And yet, I haven’t even lived long enough to get that far, let alone worked that long, let alone worked that long in any one single job. As far as careers go, all I’ve ever had were flings. I’m not that kind of girl, so it’s weird even to say that, but it’s true.
Now I may not know a whole lot about bearing steadily down one career path, but I’ve been happily married a few years, so I thought I’d try to apply some of what I know about one commitment to another. Not everything translates because a career is a career while a marriage is, well, a marriage, but for someone like me who’s a total fish out of water, there were some things that helped me to settle down and not be so flighty.
You choose who you’re with. On your wedding day, you might feel like the planets have aligned and opened up a private portal to the divine, just for you and your other half. But make no mistake: marriage is a choice you make, every single day. Anyone who’s ever been married knows that your marital status is not a guarantee. It’s a responsibility. It requires constant care and cultivation if you expect it to bear fruit. A career is the same thing. You don’t just pick a path and expect it to carry you effortlessly. There are the days when inspiration is high and opportunity abounds, when it feels like you were absolutely made for this. But there will also be days when you’re bored with it, annoyed by it, hating it, wondering why you chose it and what the heck you’re even getting out of it. Those are the days when you choose it. And you keep choosing it until it chooses you back once again.
This is a gift. Sadly, we are a generation who has been accustomed to having the whole world at our fingertips. I remember being 7, playing with a pencil box and pretending it was a phone. I thought it would be awesome if I could carry this phone around with me everywhere and not just at home, and when I wanted it to call someone I would just have to say the name of the person I wanted to call and it would just call them. A year later, my dad came home with a cell phone. Less than 10 years after that, we were dialing people’s numbers by saying their names into our phones. That kind of wish fulfillment is what we have grown up with. So now we look at our daily doldrums and think, it would be awesome if I could have a job where I never felt bored, never felt burnt out, never had to pay dues…and we expect that this will happen. We take what we have for granted and expect that something better is always around the corner. The reality is that employment is a gift, no matter if you’re working as a bus boy or a CEO. It is a opportunity to learn, contribute, and become self-sufficient. And no matter how talented we are, nothing in this world is a given. We only have what we have right now, and we must always, at all times, make the best of it.
You’re in it for the long haul, but you don’t have forever. This is a tough one to wrap my head around. Marriage, like a career, is a marathon. In the middle of this long haul, it’s easy to forget that it has a finish line. We all have an expiration date, and thanks to the transitory nature of our existence, so does everything we do here on earth. In a marriage, people often talk about raising a family so that they can leave a legacy. In a career, the same is true. How am I using my time at work? Is this just a paycheck for me? Am I wiling the hours away, being unproductive, allowing myself to remain unchallenged, uninspired and uninspiring to others? Or am I applying myself towards an occupation that makes a difference? Am I seeking excellence? Am I building something that will outlast my youth, my strength, even my lifetime?
There’s more, but those are the three that gave me the most clarity. I’m not saying we all need to buckle down and pick a road. For some of us, the pursuit is the road. But for those of us who want to take an exit, stake a claim and become just one thing — who are done with being “enthusiastic” — I hope this helps.