The luxurious anxiety of choosing a career

“Find a job doing what you love to do.” That sounds like great advice. If you love to do something, and you can get paid for doing it, it’s hard to see a downside.

The girl will be going off to college next year and has some anxiety about a career choice. A couple years ago, my wife and I tried to talk her into going to school to study forestry. “Then you can get a job as a park ranger, or something like that,” we explained. “You love hiking and being in nature.”

Actually, it's my wife and I who love the outdoors. The girl doesn’t mind it, but the truth is she prefers city life to vast expanses of wilderness. So, yeah, we were projecting our ideas onto her a little, or maybe a lot.

My wife is a very good baker. She enjoys baking. More than a few people have said something like, “You’re really good at this. You should open your own bakery.”

There’s a big difference between baking for people you love, and baking for a living. The truth is, she loves baking because she enjoys showing her affection for someone in a tangible way. If she was doing it for money, some of the enjoyment would be gone.

Also, to make a living as a baker, you need to love baking early in the morning. There is an enormous difference between liking to bake at one o’clock in the afternoon and liking to bake at four o’clock in the morning. Morning is not her favorite time of the day.

Finding a job doing what we love can spoil what we love. When my parents moved into a golf community, I asked my dad if he was going to golf every day. “Why would I want to do that?” he responded. “That would be like work.”

Anxiety over choosing a vocation is a recent phenomenon. For most of history, people didn't have the luxury of that anxiety. My grandfather worked in the iron mines in Minnesota. I doubt anyone ever asked him why he wanted to be a miner. He was born in a mining town, so he became a miner.

If you asked him if he was happy in life, I think he would have said that he was. It was not because he loved mining. Mining allowed him to make a contribution to the world. It allowed him to support a family. It also allowed him to be part of the larger community.

Many of the children in our communities have the luxury of being anxious about choosing a vocation. At this moment in her life, my daughter doesn’t think it is a luxury.

Rather than encouraging our children do what they love to do for a living, it might be better to talk to them about the fulfillment of making a contribution to the world. That might alleviate some of the luxurious anxiety of career choice. In the long run, it might even help them find more happiness than merely finding a job doing what they love.

RJ Johnson

I have been a priest for 16 years.  I spent the first four years in Minnesota and Wisconsin, six years on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, before becoming the pastor at Advent Episcopal Church in Westlake in 2010.  If anyone would find it interesting I have a son and daughter, which I refer to as a matched set, a wife, a dog, and a cat.

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Volume 8, Issue 3, Posted 9:50 AM, 02.02.2016