Please welcome today’s gust writer, Cole Campbell. Cole graduated Calvin College in 2015 with a Writing degree. He currently lives in Canton, Ohio and is attending classes at Stark State College.
I’m so sorry. Honestly, I hate that I want to talk about this, but I’ve been lamenting on this for so long that it feels like an anchor on my soul. Guys…I want to talk about vocation. If you haven’t thrown your device into the nearest trash compactor yet, please hear me out. Vocation, or at least the way we experience the idea of vocation through Calvin College, is dumb. As students at Calvin, we’re beaten over the head with discussions about vocation, or our “calling” if you will. Calvin’s ultimate goal is not just to give you an education, but to put you on the right path for your vocation. And when you find your vocation, you’ll be fulfilling God’s plan for you. That’s a fine goal, but it’s become distorted due to our society’s increasingly narrow view of higher education. Instead of being a place where students can come to experience new ideas and grow as people, college is becoming a place that is viewed primarily as a job training center. And when you mix Calvin’s view of vocation with our twisted view of higher education, we’re left with this shallow understanding of both vocation and education.
I graduated college with a Writing degree in the summer of 2015, and in a few months, I got a job at a startup in Grand Rapids. The pay was garbage, and we were “encouraged” to work long hours for the good of the company. I wasn’t making a living wage, but at least I had a job. In my mind, that’s all that mattered. My job was in marketing, and I spent most of my days telling people on social media about all of the great BOGO ½ off deals at some pizzeria in the middle of nowhere. It was a mind-numbing job, and I hated it so much that I considered quitting many times. I was fired a year later.
After I got fired, I spent a few months looking for jobs, but I didn’t have enough experience to get a better paying job than I had, and I didn’t have enough marketable skills to look for a different job. Like so many of my peers, I moved back in with my parents, and took a retail job at a liquor store. Now, three years after graduating from Calvin, I’m going back to school at a community college to learn some more skills so I can get back into the professional world. I’m not telling you this as a condemnation of the humanities or the liberal arts in general. I wouldn’t tell any current or incoming students of any university to major in STEM or to learn how to code. This is more of me contemplating what could have been. Maybe if I spent more time at Calvin learning about things that interested me instead of just worrying about what degree I needed, I think I would have a much better understanding of what I could and should be doing right now.
If you’re like me, you were given your roadmap to college when you got your first bad grade. “Cole! You need to get good grades now, so you can get into college! If you don’t get into college, you won’t get a degree, which means won’t get a good job, and you’ll be unhappy for the rest of your life!” That’s a lot of pressure to put on a grade schooler. The importance of the degree is entrenched in many of us at a young age. So when we finally make it to college, we fail to see our classes as opportunities, and instead, view them as roadblocks. So we do what we can to pass the roadblocks, instead of appreciating the moments where we get to learn something new. This seems so trite to think about now, but I think many of us are too preoccupied with the destination, and forget to enjoy the journey.
Vocation in its purest form is more than just the work you do. It’s the sum of you as a Christian; your devotion to God and your devotion to your community. However, I think it’s important to point out how Calvin College’s intentions of vocation is warped by America’s fetishization of the college degree, while continually making the college degree worthless. And with this skewed perspective, it’s almost impossible to disassociate Calvin’s intended view of vocation, and our idea of vocation in relation to our career.
I don’t regret going to Calvin College. I had a great experience, and I made friendships that will last a lifetime. I just wish I could tell my younger self to really embrace the learning process. Read the book and don’t use Sparknotes. Participate in as many class discussions as you can. Take classes you find interesting. Actually learn something. While this discussion of “vocation” is uniquely Calvin, but the devaluation of higher education is a problem for schools across America.