Vocation is not synonymous with career

Advising recess used to induce in me a state of panic matched only by the chaos of waiting in line for Uppercrust’s grilled cheese during rush hour.

It was the time of the semester when I realized, again, just how much I was falling short in the “having my life together” department. Friends on my floor freshman year would start rambling on about their four-year plans and grad school requirements, and I would listen to them with a mixture of awe and discouragement. How in the world were they so sure what they wanted to do with their lives when my greatest passion was understanding why the dining hall didn’t serve Nutella for lunch?

So I would trudge over to my advising appointment in DeVries Hall, and my advisor at the time would assure me that it was fine that I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. But deep down, I didn’t really believe her.

When we go off to college, we often feel the weight of expectations piled up on us. We are at the place that’s supposed to prepare us for “real life.” We’re supposed to be learning skills to use in our careers, finding internships, becoming those “Walking Boldly” graduate success stories that are plastered across the top of the Calvin homepage.

We are told so many conflicting things about picking a major, about careers, and about vocation, from so many different people. Do what you love. Pick something practical. Make enough money to live comfortably. Step out of your comfort zone. Follow God’s call in your life. Majors don’t even matter. Find where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Some of this advice is good. Some of it isn’t. But all of it is stressful if you’re sitting in advising and have gone through the whole course catalog and have no idea what major to pick. Or when you’re sitting in advising and you’re realizing you shouldn’t have been a nursing major because you faint at the sight of blood. Or when you’re a senior, starring “real life” in the face and realizing just how unprepared you feel.

I think the core of our anxiety about careers and about the future often stems from the way that we discuss vocation here at Calvin. We talk about “God’s will for our lives” so much that we’re afraid we’re somehow going to miss it. And we simplify the idea of God’s calling and our vocation to include only, or at least primarily, our career path.

At an institution like Calvin, this is a real danger. The nature of college admissions is such that Calvin needs to emphasize just how many of their students have landed internships, what percentage of their graduates are gainfully employed. But if college is only about graduating with a degree, why bother with a school like Calvin in the first place?

For me, the answer is this: Vocation is much broader than we think. The world needs people who are passionate about the things they are doing with their careers, yes. But even more, the world needs people who are passionate about a way of being, about love and renewal and truth, whether they are a stay-at-home parent or president of the United States or even a college student.

Real life doesn’t start after we leave school. Real life isn’t something we plan for and stress over during advising. Real life is right here at Calvin, in honest midnight conversations about faith and doubt, in semesters abroad that open our eyes to injustice, even in our meandering path toward choosing a major and a career.

Vocation is not simply what God is calling us to do with the rest of our lives, about internships or careers. It’s about how we are called to live in this world, right here and right now. And frankly, I think most of us can figure that out even without stressing over an advising appointment.