Gene Edward Veith, author of God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in all of Life and Family Vocation: God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenthood, and Childhood (among numerous other books), has a new article on vocation over at Intercollegiate Review. In that article—“How to find your vocation in college”—Veith offers good advice to students seeking their “calling” in life. While it’s written for the college crowd, the content is applicable for those of us elsewhere too.
He reminds us, first off, that vocation is bigger than just where you work:
Your job is only part of [vocation], and sometimes not the most important part. We have vocations in the family (being a child, getting married, becoming a parent) and in the society (being a citizen, being a friend). There are also vocations in the church (pastor, layperson).
In short, every situation of life is part of vocation. And all these vocations are callings from God through which “we love and serve our neighbours.” That perspective—seeing vocation as service to other people—can help us not get caught up in seeking some divine secret calling for our lives. We serve God best by letting Him serve others through us where we are now. We don’t need to get bent out of shape looking for an extraordinary calling from God; He works regularly through down to earth, ordinary means—through farmers raising crops, doctors mending broken bones, children loving their parents, friends comforting friends.
In his article, Veith is writing specifically for college students trying to figure out what to study, so he has some specific advice for the “job” side of vocation too. The first thing he does is dismiss the idea that all students should be pursuing the professions.
Certain Republican governors, Fox News pundits, libertarian think tankers, and others worried about skyrocketing taxpayer-funded student loans that are often impossible to pay back are arguing that students should stop majoring in liberal arts subjects like philosophy and history… The assumption is that if students would just choose a profession, any profession, that would make them lots of money, all would be well.
Veith criticizes this view as shortsighted. After all, if everyone was trained in a STEM field, “both the salaries and the employment rate in these fields would plummet, since the supply would overwhelm the demand.” Instead, he suggests, we need to take stock of our own particular interests, background, and talents when considering career paths. “If you are no good in math, hate working at a desk, and fail your accounting classes,” Veith warns, “that field is not for you. Or, rather, you are not for that field.”
“If, however,” he continues, “what you do best is philosophize, you may be doomed to be a philosopher.”
Learning to see vocation as doing what you can with who you are—rather than always seeking to discover some illusive future “calling”—is something we can all learn from, student or no.