|The Stormy Sea by Gustave Courbet|
"Lawrence Holt, President of the steamship company Blue Funnel Line...was greatly disturbed about the number of young sailors who were losing their lives in the service of his company. Battles at sea with Nazi submarines often resulted in sailors having to abandon ship."
"Time and time again Holt noticed that older sailors made up the greatest proportion of survivors."
"Young men, though often more physically able, seemed to be lost because they lacked the sheer will to withstand the ordeals of ocean travel by lifeboat or raft." (From The Role of the Instructor, by Ken Kalisch)This fascinates me. One would think physical prowess and youthful drive lead to success, but it turns out they don't. And I'm not sure these characteristics succeed in the pursuit of challenging careers either.
I spent last weekend with thousands of students who sat in session after session learning how the Christian faith, in particular, can inform work. These young attendees weren't learning how to proselytize or hang religious calendars in their cubicles. Instead, they were learning how to study various trades and career paths and the systems that shape and run them; how to orient their vocational vision toward addressing and correcting what's broken in those careers and using the careers to address and correct what is broken on the client end; and how to surrender to a divine call that honors God in the way the work gets done.
In practical speech, it works like this: As Jesus healed lepers, today's engineers protect travelers. As Jesus gave to the poor, today's shoe salesmen promote generosity. As Jesus spread his message with humility and truth, today's advertisers market honestly and with compassion.
Or that's the way it's supposed to be. Perhaps I should have said, "Sometimes advertisers..." or "Advertisers try to market...." Advertising is one of those careers where the young are often, as we might say, lost because they lack the sheer will to withstand the ordeals of the industry.
I say this as an outsider, and to be fair, I'm pretty sure I would get lost if advertising were my career. Challenges face new employees in every field but advertisers especially seem unusually susceptible to compromising situations. The intersection of mass media, consumer wants and relative anonymity (Can you name anyone who has made a Super Bowl commercial?) creates enormous pressure to do whatever the boss/client demands, even if it makes no sense restoratively. And yet. And yet, it is no less a worthy vocation.
In tougher fields - like advertising - what employees need is a way to build character and resilience and wisdom to buck the broken systems and sustain new, neighbor-loving approaches. I don't know whether that looks like a program or mentorship or simply a community of stalwart encouragers, but if it works anything like wilderness experiences do, then a combination of duress and success is needed. Conscience-squeezing situations, risk, biblical formation, courageous stands, creative alternatives, and at least occasional victories are important elements that increase the survival rate of novitiates.
I've been both the young sailor and the old sailor and and I've drowned a few times. Mostly because in my youth I lacked the sheer will to withstand the ordeals of [fill in the blank].