Recently I read of an interesting study that was published in Mark Albion’s book; Making a Life, Making a Living. The study is very revealing in that it examines business people who took two very different paths after graduating from college.
A study of business school graduates tracked the careers of 1,500 people from 1960 to 1980. From the beginning, the graduates were grouped into two categories. Category A consisted of people who said they wanted to make money first so that they could do what they really wanted to do later – after they had taken care of their financial concerns. Those in Category B pursued their true interests first, sure that the money would eventually follow.
What percentage fell into each category?
Of the 1,500 graduates in the survey, the money-now Category A’s comprised 83 percent, or 1,245 people. Category B risk takers made up 17 percent, or 255 graduates.
After twenty years there were 101 millionaires in the group. One came from Category A, 100 from Category B.
The study’s author, Srully Blotnick, concluded that “the overwhelming majority of people who have become wealthy have become so thanks to work they found profoundly absorbing. . . Their ‘luck’ arose from the accidental dedication they had to an area they enjoyed.”
I believe this study could be of great value to a college graduate or person in their early thirties as they consider their future career. But what about the person who has already invested twenty or twenty-five years in a career in which they are bored or even miserable?
Over the years, I have asked many men the following question: “What if you just learned that your long lost uncle had died and left you enough money so you would never have to work again? What would you do tomorrow? A few have told me they would stay the course and make no changes in their lives. Many have told me they would scale down, take a less stressful position. However, a large majority said “I would turn in my resignation tomorrow.”
The problem is many believe they cannot change careers because they earn a good living and have built up a lifestyle that they are not willing to walk away from. So many people find themselves in an unprecedented place – being incredibly well educated, with a world full of options for meaningful work, and yet have no idea where they belong.
So, what do you tell this person?
First, you may want to make the decision to change careers. I am not suggesting you resign tomorrow, but go ahead and make the decision that you are going to find a more meaningful career. You will make the change once you have determined what that is, or you may want to wait until you have actually found another job. As someone once said, “When Tarzan is swinging through the jungle, he never lets go of the first vine until he has his hand firmly attached to the second.”
However, for many people it is not realistic to change careers, at least right now. What I have learned is that how we approach our work can be as important as the nature of the work itself.
If we step back and see our work as a calling, that we are providing a service to help others, that our work connects us to people and is part of a bigger vision, it will impact what we experience in our jobs.
I read about a study that observed the attitudes of janitors emptying bedpans and cleaning up vomit in a hospital. Those who saw themselves as part of a team caring for the sick and who went above and beyond to do their job with excellence derived satisfaction from their role, while those who simply sought to do the job to get a paycheck did not.
One of the world’s great architects was a man by the name of Christopher Wren. He designed St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, which was built between 1675 and 1710. During construction, everything was tirelessly performed by hundreds of workers since there were no machines or equipment to assist with their work.
One day, Wren was examining the job site, where the workers trudged away at their laborious task. There was nothing enjoyable about it.
Suddenly, Wren noticed an older man who was mixing cement in a mortar box. The man seemed to enjoy his work, wearing a smile on his face. As he watched this man mix the mortar, he finally asked him: “Mister, what are you doing?” The man replied, “Sir, I am building a great cathedral to the glory of God.”
All of those other laborers were merely doing a job. This older man saw himself fulfilling a calling from God.
I recently read an article produced by the Veritas Forum that I believe puts all of this in proper perspective.
The Bible pictures humans as created to be in relationship with God and others, and to delight in meaningful work. In the cultural settings in which the Bible was first written, few people had the freedom to choose what kind of work they did. But they could choose how they worked. In the New Testament, Christians living in slavery are encouraged that even their work can be a calling: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for humans” (Colossians 3:23).
We are called to work with all of our hearts as a way to honor God, whether we are the CEO of a large corporation, or the custodian who cleans the premises. At the end of the day, we find a sense of purpose in what we are doing, because we will know that we are contributing to a cause that is much bigger than ourselves.