Vocational Confusion

A year ago I was starting my final year of undergrad, and this is what I wish someone would have told me:

  1. The first year of life post-grad will be really hard, but for different reasons than you expect it to be.
  2. You’ll spend the first four months (and quite probably the remaining eight months of the year) wrestling with: your place in society, your purpose in God’s kingdom, and your ability to function as an independent adult.
  3. God will continually surprise you by being more faithful, creative, and generous than you ever could have anticipated.

When I graduated, I knew that it wouldn’t truly feel real until the rest of the world went back to school. On Monday of this week my university started classes again, and I was surprised at how deeply I miss the routine of beginning another school year. I’ve always loved school, and since this fall is the first time since I was four years old that I am not enrolled in any formal education, I feel a bit lost.

Some of the lostness I’m feeling comes from wrestling with my vocation. The way I miss school makes me wonder if I should have gone the teaching route? Up until two years ago that’s where I was headed, and as I watch a surprisingly large number of friends begin student teaching or prep their first classroom for the year I think, “Wow, that looks fun and life-giving.” But deep down I know myself better than that. I know that if I were pursuing a teaching career, a small part of me would be enjoying it, but a larger part of me would be very anxious and wondering if maybe I should have chosen a different career. I’m also fairly confident that I would get five years into teaching and be ready to move on to something else. So, appealing as it appears from where I currently sit, I don’t think teaching is the answer to my confusion.

The truth is that I have chosen the less straightforward (but neither better nor worse) path. When people ask about my career, I can talk their ear off about Kurdistan, the 10/40 Window, and Nepal; Muslims, refugees, and young women; writing, mentoring, and storytelling, but I can’t give a simple answer as to what I want to do. I know that I want to be an overseas missionary, and I have a million ideas of what that could look like, but is that a vocation, especially if it only ends up spanning one season of my life?

When I catch myself thinking thoughts like these, I’m trying to learn how to pause and remember the qualities I attributed to God above: faithful, creative, generous. Of this I am confident: God has good work for me to do in this world (Ephesians 2:10).

In his book entitled Let Your Life Speak Parker J. Palmer says, “As young people, we are surrounded by expectations that may have little to do with who we really are, expectations held by people who are not trying to discern our selfhood but to fit us into slots.”

How often am I the person not trying to discern my selfhood because I’m too busy trying to fit myself into a slot?

Maybe I won’t live a conventional life, work in a neatly-defined job, or spend my time doing activities that are easy to explain to others. I’m sure if that ends up being my reality, I’ll chafe against it quite a bit. However, this summer God has been teaching me about the sweet freedom that comes with surrendering what I think should be happening in favor of being present to whatever is actually in front of me. Because what’s in front of me is all part of the larger-than-me story God is lovingly crafting, and at the end of the day, living my life in a way that is true to who I am is worth every complex answer I must give to the question, “So what is it you want to do with your life?”

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