|Bridge picture from Curious Photos|
I was a junior and relatively clueless.
During my senior year, I turned down an opportunity to work part-time in a real drafting firm, opting for more CAD classes instead. College quickly approached, and because I really had no idea what being an architect meant, I agreed to try civil engineering (Okay, so the school didn't offer architecture). Besides, I was promised we would make bridges in class - just like in high school! Perhaps this desire to simply extend high school, as well as my refusal to take the drafting firm job, were early yet unrecognized clues that I didn't want to be either an architect or an engineer. I just liked the fun parts.
Discovery in the library
By the second year of college, I knew clearly that I should surrender this now thread of a career dream. Feeling suddenly directionless and pressed for time, I scanned the library shelves for a book on careers. I found a thick volume containing every job known to employees, with accompanying descriptions and average expected pay. In one hour I made my decision. I would become a Spanish teacher.
I told some of the Spanish teacher story in On Earth as It is in Advertising, and I've shared it with many audiences, so suffice it to say that as much as I enjoyed and continue to enjoy the language, I initially chose the profession simply because I liked my 10th-grade Spanish teacher.
Superficial reasons for decisions along the way embarrass me to some degree now, though I don't feel alone in this. Having worked with college students for the past 13 years, I see similar patterns over and over again.
Quitting on the kids
I graduated in 1996 with a BS in Spanish Education and entered the public school system for three years. And now I get to my biggest regret to date: I had no idea that faith ought to inform vocation. There I was, a white high school teacher with no white students in perhaps the toughest school in Pittsburgh, and I saw absolutely no connection between a) what the kids really needed and b) vocabulary lists for soccer, beaches and international travel. With no vision (or even awareness that there was vision to be had), I left.
Ironically/Providentially, I landed in the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO) where they specialize in helping college students think about faith and vocation. Funny thing is, it took nearly seven years working in the CCO before I thought one bit about this topic as it applies to my former inner city teaching job.
Jubilee, a conference on work and faith hosted by the CCO, and for the first time, there was a breakout session for foreign language majors. I decided to attend. The German teacher wasn't riveting, nor particularly ingenious. But after seven years of preaching the importance of faith informing work in chemistry labs, cadaver classes, Work and Faith conferences, articles and countless other venues, here I sat, listening, with rapt attention, to what the Christian faith had to say about teaching foreign language.
I know, I know. Obvious, right? But it wasn't. That afternoon, I began to panic. Regret over missed opportunities flooded my brain. I questioned whether I could continue with the job I loved in the CCO. Visions of burning those out-of-context Spanish textbooks entered my imagination and I saw myself in the old job marching into the Board of Education building, calling for change.
That Jubilee afternoon with the German teacher was the day I really "got it." Everything I had experienced and learned suddenly connected and, though I didn't really have all the answers and still don't, I gained a specific passion that day to help others connect what they do with why they do it; to help students study their faith as much as they study their major; to help employees integrate faith and work in a way that is biblically and theologically sound.
I stuck with the CCO. It took mentors I admire to calm me down and show me that God has timing I cannot trump. There was no way to go back and I had to come to terms with that reality.
I'll be heading back to Jubilee for my 12th year on February 18-20, and while I can't promise that anything miraculous will happen to you if you go, I can assure you that whether you're a student or a seasoned professional, you'll be inspired to renew your vocation.
Read more about Jubilee here, or find an invitation here at The High Calling - a site about life, work and God.