May 12, 2010

It's More Than Work

Graduation season is upon us. I know several high school seniors and three college seniors, all of whom await their upcoming graduation ceremonies with giddy anticipation. Of course, they’re appropriately proud of their accomplishments, but most are mainly excited about “being done.”

However, just under the surface of that joy may lay a gnawing little nugget of angst that asks, “Now what?” For a high school grad going on to college, the question isn’t as daunting. He’s a bit nervous about the transition to college, but he knows his role will not change much; come fall, he’ll be in a different place learning new things, but he’ll still be a student, and his primary “purpose” will be the same as it’s been for the previous 13 years.

In contrast, though, a college graduate or a high school senior not planning to attend college faces a completely different scenario. Her identity as “student” and her self-defined main purpose – studying and learning – will evaporate as she joins the graduation procession. And in our current economy, she has no guarantee of quickly replacing her current identity and purpose with new ones wrapped up in the word “employee.”

Ours is a work-based culture – we even explicitly tell children from a young age that their “job” is to learn. Thus, as adults we can believe that our sole purpose is work – to “live the American dream” or even just to provide for a family. And so, for young and old alike, we can feel as if everything falls out from under us if we have a tenuous “work purpose.”

But we need to remember that purpose is multi-faceted – it’s not all about “perfect” paid employment. We do need to encourage our grads to seek meaningful employment. But we should remind our child, nephew, friend, or former student who cannot find a “good job” that she is not rudderless. In the meantime, she can serve other purposes – and grow as a person in the process.

So the young lady who spends her summer volunteering in the church’s children’s ministry is fulfilling her purpose as a nurturer. The young man who’ll live with his grandfather to save on rent has purpose as a caregiver as well. And the gal who takes the tedious job at Wal-Mart can save money and develop patience.

This is a good “season” in our country to collectively remind ourselves that purpose does not equal paid employment. Yes, that’s part of it in many cases – but it’s not the end-all-and-be-all. We can use this time of questionable “work purpose” to remind ourselves and our young friends to explore and discover every aspect of our purposes for living.


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