Family Mission Statement – Part 7: Work
Who doesn’t love hearing the exciting and creative job titles kids come up with when asked what they want to be when they grow up? Firefighter, car mechanic, astronaut, missionary, doctor, marine biologist, viceroy of the open seas!… Ok, maybe not that last one – but we are taught to dream big and the sky’s the limit. However, at some point, for many but not all of us, reality sets in and our selections are narrowed to a much more practical list of career options offered by our university, trade school, etc: Accountant, chemist, engineer, business, education, history, math, and so on.
The thought that has amazed us lately is realizing how segmented career pursuits can be from the rest of life. The dream as children to pursue our passions gets replaced along the way by the expectation to enter a proper and pragmatic profession. Whereas our goals, values, dreams, and passions apply to the rest of our lives, it seems almost normal that our career ought to take a different path. This is what I mean by segmented. Our lives head one direction while our work heads us in another.
When I graduated from college I had 3 options before me: 1) move out of state to work as a Construction Manager for a large grain processing company, 2) move close to home for an entry level management position with an HVAC company, or 3) stay put and Intern with the campus ministry I was very involved with as a student. This was NOT an easy decision. I’m guessing you can deduce which paid the most and which paid the least; in fact, roughly half. I ultimately decided to do a campus ministry internship for one year. After the year was up, Joelle and I got married, she joined me on campus, and we were on staff another 4 years together.
Even back in college I began learning a valuable lesson; life is, or at least should be, more than career. During those 5 years in ministry we may not have netted the most pay, had the best benefits, invested as much as we would like to in retirement, or had the cushy and secure job idealized by our culture, but one thing we did have each day was significance.
Certainly a tradeoff. Certainly there were challenges. Certainly not everyone understood our decision. But for us, life and work melded into a beautiful dish of pursuing our passions, having an eternal impact, and having our time amount to something far greater than just a paycheck. Plus, option 1 would have involved working for a company I now believe is at the cutting edge of everything that’s wrong with the world 😉
Life Is Short
One of my favorite movies is Big Fish. In one early scene, young Edward Bloom sees a future glimpse through the glass eye of the town witch of exactly how and when he would someday depart this earth. His take away, knowing the exact moment and means of his death, was to live having “more determination than any man you’re likely ever to meet!”
Sorry for the sad thought, but all of us have an expiration date. The more sad part of the story is that most of us live like we don’t! At about any “real” job I’ve ever had, the water cooler talk is all about the weekends, days off, vacations, and dreaming of the elusive and ever so distant retirement. Not too hard to read between the lines on that one. If you truly enjoy your work and would be doing it regardless of pay or any other benefit, then I applaud your investment and say keep on keepin on. But my fear, and experience, tells me that work is viewed much differently by many in our culture and jobs are simply being tolerated as a means to some end. Punching in 40 hrs/wk x 52 wks/yr x 30 yrs into a calculator you get 62,400 hours. Yikes! That’s a big investment for something you may feel “meh” about… and those are conservative numbers for many careers.
Right now, I am 30 years old. Joelle and I have been shocked by how many of our peers have battled chronic or debilitating illnesses or even lost their lives at such young ages. Even if I live to 100, life is short. We don’t have the luxury of seeing how we go in the glass eye of our town witch, but what we do have is the choice to invest our time, both work and otherwise, in ways that align with our values.
Is it possible?…
This is honestly a topic we are still very much in process on and have not yet discovered what it can and will mean for our family. One of the questions we have found challenging is, “If you had to work for the rest of your life (retirement not being an option!) doing anything, what would you do?” So many of us are working today for the life we want when we are 65. Instead, reverse the thought to ask, what work will be life-giving to me at 65 that I can live out today?
Some other follow up questions might be: If you could wake up tomorrow morning and do anything, what would you do? What would your ideal day look like? What activities would incorporate your top values in life? What do I passionately pursue in my free time? What work would be sustainable for me and my family up until the day I die?
Your response to those questions might be… “but those are hobbies and side projects and we are talking about career here.” Believe me, this is my same thought more often than not. But the surprising realization for me is that I guarantee with any of the wacky and niche answers you have to the above questions, somebody out there is doing that very thing, has figured out a way to make a livable wage doing it, and is loving every moment of it! This may take creativity, time, investment, failure, some unconventional methods, and not following your financial planner’s advice on retirement, but I assure you it is possible. It starts with knowing what you’re after.
I would encourage you to begin asking yourself questions like the ones mentioned above. What we’ve found is that this un-segmenting of career to integrate it back into the rest of our life takes time to process. It is almost a reprogramming that needs to occur. Step 1) We stop believing that our careers are the only means to whatever end at whatever cost, and Step 2) We live the end goal now and figure out a way to monetize it. The point is to discover your true passions and values and then work backwards from there.
In Part 6 of our Family Mission Statement, we introduced the topic of stacking your life. We believe adding career into the mix can be one of the most powerful ways of unleashing this concepts full potential. Think about it, what are your top values in life? If one of your top values is cutting down greenhouse gas emissions, you shouldn’t commute an hour each way to your job. If another top priority is time with your family, is a job that causes you to be gone 10 hours a day really helping you achieve that? If your passion and desire is to be outside as much as possible, why would you have have an office job? If you’re chronically stressed at work and your health is suffering for it, find something less stressful!
In segmenting career, we often compromise our top values. Reorient your thinking to first consider what you want out of life. Then pursue work that aligns with this. Stack your life by figuring out your top values and your ideal day and don’t stop until you’ve figured out a way to achieve all of it as a package deal. There are endless ways to make an income. Work should be a joyful and meaningful pursuit. Work toward what you value.