Labor Day is almost upon us, and recent college grads are entering the workforce for the first time. However, far too many young adults are unemployed, unable to find a suitable job, much less a career. For many more, their current jobs don’t exactly match up with their idea of a “dream job,” and scores of others are underemployed (overqualified for their position) but need to work to pay the bills.
In my work as a spiritual director, I often specialize in helping people find meaningful work. I spend time helping young adults find where they believe God may be calling them and then help them take some proactive steps to put those desires into a practical career path. At the very least, I work with young adults to articulate activities where they have found that their spirits most come alive. We try to feed that hunger so that people are at least able to do what they love as an advocation or alternate way to spend meaningful time that might not be a career, but still is something you enjoy and brings life to you.
For many, this is tough work. And so I’d like to offer five quick tips to help you celebrate Labor Day by looking more deeply at your efforts at work. These tips will help bring you closer in line with how your gifts and talents can be used to honor God who gave you these gifts to begin with.
If you have meaningful work already, simply be grateful for it. If you don’t have meaningful work, be grateful for this opportunity to look for it. Commit yourself to looking for gratitude at work and finding what makes you most happy where you are right now, even if this isn’t ultimately the place where you want to work. Gratitude is lurking somewhere. It may be the wonderful co-worker that eats lunch with you. It may be one of a myriad of tasks in your busy day. Whatever it is just notice it and be grateful.
Ask yourself one question: What’s one thing in my life that I have done that I am proud of? Relish in that accomplishment and again, be grateful. Then do one more thing: Ask yourself why you are so proud of this accomplishment and get down to the bare bones of it. Remember that this needs to be about you and not someone else. For example, if you are a teacher, it’s not enough to say that you feel like you’re making a difference in the lives of your students. What we’re looking for is why it is important to YOU to make a difference in the lives of your students. How are you “being” when you are doing what you love? Look at yourself in these moments and then ask, How do I look? How do I feel? What does it mean to see myself so fully alive?
Based on your answer to the last question, answer the following question: If money and responsibilities were not a factor, if you could be anything tomorrow, how would you be? Remember, this is about being, not doing. Dream big. Write down silly things. Write down everything. But try to get to a single word to describe how you would choose to spend your time. Examples: I would be “social.” I would be “inspiring.” I would be “serving.” I would be “mentoring.” I would be “encouraging.” I would be “powerful.” Whatever your word is, hold onto it.
You have realized how you would like to be in the world, now write down all the ways you could “labor” to be that way. Note that many of these ways need not be a career. You can simply note that you enjoy mentoring your children, or inspiring your neighbors, or encouraging your current employees. But write down as many of these as you can and include some possible jobs in here, especially for those of you who are unemployed.
60 days of awareness
For the next two months, resolve to look at the highs and lows of your day. That’s spending just 10 minutes at the end of your day noticing moments of gratitude and moments that bring (and do not bring) you life. St. Ignatius gives us a method of doing this called The Examen. Note any patterns you see developing. “Each time I do X, I feel amazing.” Then ask deeper questions about the activity. “Each time I do Y, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.” Ask if you must continue doing this activity. Focus in on the time you spend at work, if you are employed. Notice which activities bring you the most satisfaction and which do not. When you have a review with your employer, you can discuss the activities that aren’t rewarding for you and whether you need to continue doing them. Maybe these responsibilities can be shifted to someone who might enjoy doing them more than you.
At the end of those 60 days, make a final resolution to move in a healthy way toward what is calling you. This is your vocation. It is who God made you to be, and God wanted you to notice your vocation over this time so that you can be all that you are, nothing more, but more importantly, nothing less.
How you spend your time laboring after this period of reflection is indeed up to you. You may wish to find a career that is more in line with your vocation, or you may wish to simply continue with a perfectly good job that brings you some joy and choose to express your vocation in other ways.
Whatever the case, take the next two months and report your findings back here in the Comments Section below. We’ll keep you focused and provide some online direction for you.
Want some stories and further ideas? Check out my book, “Loving Work,” which will give you plenty of examples of people who have discerned their vocation well.
Originally published September 3, 2015.