The idea of a vocation – or “calling” as you’ll find it referred to in self-help books – is not new. In fact, its etymology is religious in nature.
Ever heard the phrase, “Protestant work ethic?”
It was first used by Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in the beginning of the 20th century. Don’t worry, this isn’t an academic paper – I’m done with those.
Basically, the idea is that success in this life is an indicator of success in the next.
Though the term today has largely lost its religious connotations, the sentiment behind it has stayed with us. There’s still this lingering idea that the work we do – and let’s face it, in our capitalistic society, it’s only considered “work” if we get paid for it – indicates our worth and value in society.
How many times have you asked someone you’ve met for the first time the following question: “So, what do you do?”
You expect an answer like “lawyer” or “doctor” or “teacher,” right? Would you be okay, if instead, the response you received was, “I cook dinner for my husband” or “I exercise every day?”
You’d most likely rephrase the question: “No, what do you do for a living?”
I had this same question posed to me not too long ago.
I wasn’t sure what to say. Not because I don’t have a job. I do have a job… but it’s remote… and it’s part-time… and it’s not what I went to school for. I find myself constantly trying to justify what it is I do because honestly, I’m not exactly sure.
And perhaps a part of me feels somewhat ashamed.
Since I got married and moved to Indiana, most hours of my day are actually taken up by food preparation, but I would never refer to myself as a cook. And yet, it’s those few hours of the day that I get paid for which is what people who meet me for the first time care most about.
They’ll never know of my love for cows, or that I like to sing, or that the title of the memoir I hope to write one day is “The Girl Who Never Went to Disneyland.”
Because none of that matters.
I want to do something amazing.
Things have gotten a little better as of late. Hobbies are more respected and encouraged, but there’s still this pressure to have this amazing career that will look good on a LinkedIn profile.
When I got the email from my Editor at the Tempest telling me that I am now a Contributor, the first thing I wanted to do was update my resume and list “Writer” as an occupation, as if it only became true from that point on.
But my personal struggle with “work” precedes my current employment situation. I haven’t fully made peace with the fact that I am not doing “anything” with either of my degrees – a Bachelor’s in Economics and now a Master’s in Religious Studies (but I guess, in writing this article, I’m doing something with both, eh?).
I studied Economics as an undergrad because I wanted to be a pro-bono lawyer and thought Economics would prepare me well for that. But then I decided I just wasn’t cut out for a career in law.
I worked at an Islamic school for a while after that and considered becoming a teacher (for a very brief time) because it is the “noblest profession.”
Then, I changed paths again and sincerely believed that I wanted to do my Ph.D. in Religious Studies (I still can’t get myself to read that delusional Statement of Purpose I wrote). But again, I ended up deciding that a career in academia isn’t for me either.
So I considered becoming a Muslim chaplain, as it requires some theological training, but more importantly, is a selfless profession.
Notice a trend here? Was I choosing career paths based on the type of person I wanted to be more like? Was I conflating my profession with my morality and my worth as a human being? I would never willingly admit that was my intention, but it sure does seem that way in retrospect.
Truth be told, I’m happy with my ultimate decisions.
A part of me, however, still feels like I am not fulfilling my full potential because I feel like I have to do something that helps others in a big, newsworthy way and of course, get paid for it.
But I’m learning that despite what the world tries to tell me, I am way more than just the dollars I bring in.