The Problem with Work

The overview of my present work situation is that I’ve been employed at a growing tech company for about 2 years, and I’m doing fine there. There are opportunities to move up, and the benefits are good, and my boss and coworkers are excellent people, and several days out of any given week are fairly easy.

The trouble is that I don’t love the work itself, or I don’t necessarily care about it.

It’s not that I don’t care about doing a good job. For the most part I’ve tried hard and mostly met or exceeded expectations for the various responsibilities I’ve had in the last two years. The problem, stated more directly, is that I don’t actually care about the mission of the company — which is selling an e-commerce platform to hopeful merchants. I have no interest in that. Almost none at all.

So there it is. I have all the things that make a job good — I get decent pay, autonomy in my position, excellent coworkers, good benefits, a short commute … but at the center of all that, the work that I do fails to ignite any passion in me.

I’ve known this for a long time, actually. I’ve dreamed at times about moving on and bouncing around for a little while, or starting my own company again like I did in college, or writing, or fleeing the country to be a missionary or whatever. None of those have seemed right, yet.

Actually I’ve been back and forth on this matter a bunch of times. For years before, I couldn’t bring myself to commit to any full time job, because I was so afraid of getting locked into something that didn’t inspire me. Well, I got over that phobia, at least, and realized that at my age it’s really just good to get some experience doing something, and suck it up and grow up for a little while in the meantime. I’ve been doing that for two years … and I’m starting to get itchy again.

But, I have no concrete plans to leave my present job. Not unless lightning strikes, and I realize finally what I’m meant to do with myself. Until then, I’ll try to keep growing in my position, honoring the work and the pay that I’ve been entrusted with, and do everything I can to avoid coasting. And in the meantime I’ll be experimenting on the side, like doing this blogging gig and seeing if that will float, or fleeing to the wilderness periodically, etc. etc.

To be honest, sometimes I think that the notion of fulfilling work is just a myth. What I’ve been led to believe is that there is such a thing as work you can be passionate about. That certainly doesn’t mean every day should be easy and fun — obviously as with anything, work will always have obstacles and hard, dry days. But still, I’d like to be believe it’s a real thing. I’m not sure the Bible has anything interesting to say on the topic, really.

I’m interested in hearing your experiences on navigating this question. Have you found something that consistently makes you happy to go to work? Or are you still searching, years or decades later? Are you like me, still waiting for lightning to strike?

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8 Comments

  1. My experience with this is somewhat limited, since in the past 5 years, I’ve been switching off between going to school and working (in the form of internships). But I have some thoughts.

    I have encountered passion in my work. I’ve had jobs where I do believe in the project that I am working on, and I want it to succeed. I’ll have times when I am captivated by a problem, and will constantly churn on it, even when I’m not at work. When I find solutions, I get excited and am driven to make it work. I will work late, and am eager to go to work in the mornings. And once I do get it to work, I want to make it work better. Do I feel this way all the time when I work? Honestly, no. It often depends on where I am at in a project and what I’m doing. Sometimes I can feel rather bored, when I don’t have much to do.

    That leads to next thought, about fulfilling work. I believe that people are made to long for the eternal, and that we will have that itch in the long term if all we are going after is something that is entirely manmade. Being young and full of energy, I have a tendency to get caught up in those moments of passion I described above. I make an idol out of work, and put God to the side, which usually eventually leads to feeling burned out and unfulfilled. But I don’t think those moments of passion are necessarily bad if used right. Collossians 3:23 says to work as if you are working for the Lord, and the times when I have been walking in that have been the times when I have had the most fulfilling work.

    As a final thought, I’ve also wondered like you if God has something else for me other than working in the tech industry as an engineer. I’m definitely gifted in this area, but it sometimes seems like a cop out to choose this as a career (which pays well, is relatively safe) vs something more risky or flashy (like missionary work). But for now, it seems consistent with where God is leading me, so I intend on continuing to do it until God leads me elsewhere.

    Reply

    1. Mike,
      Thanks for weighing in. I have, at times, been excited for particular projects that I’ve worked on as well. But, maybe a lot of that is based in my affinity for *new* things and how much I enjoy *beginnings* — I’m not sure.

      Also, I think that mission work can end up being just as much of a cop out, for some, as is doing “normal” full-time paid labor is for others. I was just talking with a friend about this yesterday — how she is running her own business and also support raising for something risky and powerful on the side, and how THAT was never something she would have expected to do, but she felt called into it. Now it takes faith for her, all the time, to continue doing it. Whereas for me, to be honest, the situation is reversed, but equivalent. I am not where I expected to be, doing this kind of job, and so both of us are in off-balance positions, rather than being where we’re comfortable. Interesting.

      Reply

    1. Choe,
      Agreed. I heard a real good word once about how this will always be the case, we’ll always be at war with our work, and it will turn up thorns and thistles for us continually.

      I think that’s true. I think it’s a fact of the world we live in. But that leads me to a certain suspicion. Here’s how it breaks down:
      A) Our culture (american / western) teaches us that there IS work to do that’s *right* and *life-giving* for us.
      B) Some voices within the church affirm this message, albeit with a better tint, e.g. “Your calling is where your gifts / passions intersect the world’s pain” or something cool like that.
      C) Parts of the Bible seem to suggest that parts (A) and (B) are made up, as per the ‘thorns and thistles’ from before.

      My concern is that work may never really be found “life-giving”, and since I believe in Jesus, I should know better anyway — the only good reliable source of life is Him. If this is true, are we wasting our time looking for work that’s fun and meaningful?

      I’m just not sure yet.

      Reply

  2. Hey Ian. I have a few thoughts.

    1) I think that we as middle-class American twenty-somethings tend to think that we are ENTITLED to a job that is both fun and meaningful…you know, because we went to college and worked so hard. I don’t think this is an appropriate attitude. Why are we, just because we were born here and not there, entitled to that, when most of the world has no real choice in their occupation, and they are thankful for any job that takes care of their families (if they are that lucky)? I think we spend a lot of time thinking about this, when maybe we just need to follow the Lord when he’s leading us, take advantage of every opportunity to share Christ wherever we are, and serve others out of love wherever we end up.

    I’m not saying I haven’t spent way too much time analyzing this (see #2), but I don’t know that its always “that big of a deal” to God that we have fun and meaningful work (sometimes he give that to us, though – see #2). I think sometimes he is waiting for us to be faithful with what we have now, and if we are found faithful with worldly things, then he can give us authority over spiritual things. (that’s somewhere in the gospels – parable of the talents – im terrible at remembering references.) 😉

    2) Personally, as you know, I have seen the Lord fulfill this “dream” in my own life. I’m a CPA who did the Big Four gig and then ended up at a summer camp in the Hill Country, where my work is fun, satisfying, and the mission is something to believe in. Like you said, that doesn’t mean I’m happy every day, it doesn’t mean I even like it every day, but I do (like someone said above) really want us to succeed in our mission, so longer hours to see that happen doesn’t seem so terrible most days. A few things I’ve learned in this pursuit of a mission-focused vocation – 1) Pray a lot. 2) Wait a lot. 3) when faced with an opportunity- weigh both realities that you may need to just jump in, even if it’s not perfect, if its headed in the right direction, and conversely that not every opportunity is God speaking. Sometimes you can say no. Discernment. 4) sacrifices are required. Missions that are meaningful don’t come with American-dream style benefits usually. 🙂 5) Faithfulness in the small things makes all the difference. That’s where you learn the things you’ll need to fulfill your call.

    So, there’s my 2 cents. I wrestled with this subject for SO LONG in college. I think I wrestled too much – the Lord was very clearly working things out under my nose, as I pursued the things I was passionate about and was faithful with whatever I was entrusted with. And I prayed a lot and waited a lot.

    And now, I think I am heading to a new “dream” – one of seeing the Lord work out a call on my Husband’s life that I get to play “best supporting actress” in. And that dream may not include a proper vocation, or it may – don’t know yet. But either way, I’m going to do the same things I mentioned above – pray, wait, discern, sacrifice, and always be faithful with what I’m taking care of. 🙂

    Stacie

    Reply

    1. Stace,
      This is awesome. Thanks so much. I forget about the people in my life that have gotten to experience something like I’ve imagined. Thanks.

      Reply

  3. An interesting thought is that the word passion in itself means “what you are willing to suffer for.” So to be passionate about you work doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t some form of suffering involved. Are you passionate about the benefits that you are getting? So much so that you are willing to suffer through a job that you can’t seem to get behind emotionally? Maybe the idea of being passionate is connected with the benefit you are suffering for. For example a teacher my enjoy teaching so much that they are willing to grade loads of homework, even though it is not fun, just so that they get the chance to teach. Or maybe a construction worker is passionate enough about buying his wife a name brand purse that he is willing to suffer the heat to make the money to do so. What are willing to suffer for. On the other hand, I actually believe that when Jesus restored us to God, the curse of the fall was undone and we are meant to step into the way of working like in the garden where men didn’t have to toil with thorns and thistles. What do I tell the people working for walmart in almost slave-like conditions… that they just aren’t believing hard enough or trusting in the gospel? I actually don’t know but I believe these mysteries are meant to be searched out rather than explained away by theology or theory

    Reply

    1. Stephen,
      I think that’s a neat angle on it. For many people, work is just a means to an end, and if they’re “passionate” about the end in mind, then the work itself will be worth it.

      For me I think the End would have to be something that my job would create, facilitate, or sell, which would be so compelling that I would be willing to *suffer* so that the product was delivered. I don’t know what that would be, yet.

      Reply

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