Our theme for the month of March is “Ask the post calvin.” We’re taking on questions submitted by readers and offering our best advice.
Dear the post calvin,
Calvin likes to talk a lot about vocation, but in post-grad life I’ve found it to feel a lot more lofty and disappointing than I thought it would. How do you make sense of vocation?
Dear Directionless Debbie,
I decided to Google vocation because it’s been a long time since I’ve given this term any serious thought. As it turns out, Merriam-Webster defines vocation as first, “a strong inclination towards a particular state or course of action” or “the work in which a person is employed.” Okay, I left out a part of the first definition. It also includes, “especially, a divine call to the religious life.” When I was at Calvin, the rhetoric around vocation seemed to be about not only finding the job that was best suited to your gifts, but also living your life in service to God and to others. It wasn’t as much about where you were getting your next paycheck but more of an all-encompassing mindset. Because you are a Christ-follower, your chosen activities and relationships have more weight—or something like that.
If you tie your identity to your job, I can’t help but think that the inevitable outcome will be disappointing. And it’s certainly lofty to align your job with a God-ordained plan for your life that you may or may not be following in the most fulfilling-his-purpose kind of way. In other words, I get you.
I never considered teaching as a viable career choice when I was in high school or even at Calvin. I knew I liked books and writing, but I was terrified of public speaking and didn’t think I possessed the right personality type for the job. Now, halfway through my fifth year teaching, I believe it is a good fit for me. I know I stuck through it through those terrible first years because I did believe it was a career choice in which I could be of service and show Christ’s love. Still, the word vocation wasn’t the ringing alarm that got me out of the bed every morning. The kids were. Important little humans were counting on me to be there. I prayed for God’s strength every day to just get me through the next twenty-four hours. I still do this.
I know that wondering “but what if I should just be a writer?” is a clingy cliche, but I find myself considering this every now and then. Mostly when people tell me I’m “talented” or “have a gift” or want to make sure I keep writing after I get kicked off this blog when I turn thirty. (But, a lot of people have bad taste. A lot of people read Fifty Shades of Grey. A lot of people read Twilight. I read Twilight.) But assuming this is my gift, should I commit to writing more because God gave me a talent and I shouldn’t let it go to waste? To be honest, I really don’t know. I know I’m not wasting my time teaching. I also don’t think I’m doing this advice column thing very well so far, so let me tell you some things I do know that will (hopefully) help you find direction.
I know there are no ordinary people. There is this amazing quote by C.S. Lewis that my pastor reminded me of when he used it in the sermon this past Sunday:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”
So while I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about vocation, I do spend a lot of time thinking about living a life in service to and in relation to others and what that demands of me as a Christ-follower.
Of course, certain careers seem more obviously service-oriented. My sister, a nurse, always has someone in front of her who needs her. She can be of service in any moment of the day. I’ve always been struck by this story of a man named Andy Wimmer. His story is the last in a series of vignettes in the documentary Happy (which is about how different people find happiness and is on Netflix—highly recommend.) Andy decided to move to Calcutta and work at Mother Teresa’s home for the Dying Destitutes.
Wimmer says, “My life has a meaning. You have a dying man in front of you and he asks for a glass of water, which is very little, but it’s so important to give him this glass of water. It’s such a symbolic act, even. I got this life. I got my parents, my friends. I was never really sick. I always had enough food to eat…For me, my life is like a loan given from God and I will give this loan back, but with interest.”
Of course, living a life like that is a lofty goal. But I believe that if we even try to do that in the smallest ways, we won’t be disappointed. It doesn’t have to mean literally saving a life, but can be so much as my friend, who keeps bottles of water in her car to give to the homeless men that beg at the intersections by the highways. It can be giving a pencil to the student who asks for one everyday. It can be making a meal for someone. It can be still smiling as you ring up the countless customers of the day at the 7-11. It can also mean going to a yoga class if that makes you a more positive and peaceful person. It doesn’t mean overthinking every decision in your life, but it does mean spreading love in simple ways. That’s what I believe, most of all. Living a life of purpose, meaning (fine…vocation), means remembering that we are here for more than ourselves and there are no ordinary people.
Caroline (Higgins) Nyczak (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.