Monday, May 4, 2015

Jobs Careers Callings

I find it difficult to write about work as a meaningful part of life, perhaps because I made what I have come to term, “the great compromise.” After nine years spent in American factories, I decided to look for the least objectionable way to earn a sufficient salary to provide us with the standard of living we wanted. By this time I had discovered that I liked machines and machines liked me, so I went back to school in mechanical engineering with the desire to find a job in a research and development laboratory. It was a job, that gave me a career, but it wasn’t a calling.

For at least thirty or forty years in an advanced nation like the United States, it is necessary to find or create a job, that as Dr. John would say, will allow you to earn enough bread to buy the bread to have enough strength to come back and work another day. A job is about survival for you and for your family. Fortunately our nation has a social safety net to help in time of need, but if scamming that system for the rest of your life is your goal, your life will be pretty wretched. If you fall down, be thankful the net is there to catch you, but please get back up. Take a job, any available job. If one does not exist, create your own. If you preserve, it will not be the end of your road, but a beginning.

I know a Hispanic man who found a job as a janitor working for a Government contractor. I expect he wasn’t earning what some would term a “living wage” when he started in a position that would be considered, menial, by most Americans. He performed his job with excellence. Not only did he do what was required, but in his spare time he swept out a building that was 5/8 of a mile in length. As far as I know that was the first time that was done since the building was constructed. A Government supervisor was so impressed with this man’s work ethic and personal integrity that he hectored his management until they created a special position as a entry level mechanic just so that he could hire that janitor. Our new employee not only learned to perform his freshly minted job, but continued to voluntarily perform in his old role as a janitor. Everywhere he went, everything he touched was clean. Before I retired, I noticed this man was learning the basics of a skilled trade. Our machinists were teaching him how to run a lathe and a milling machine. I fully believe that in another ten years, he will be classified as a machinist.

A career starts as a dream and ends as the story of your life. Consider the career path of an aspiring young conservative Protestant minister. Once he earns his M. Div. at some appropriate seminary, his first job is likely to be as a youth minister or an assistant minister at some reasonably successful suburban church. In some rare instances this young man might take the job as “senior pastor” at a small rural church or even hang out his own shingle in front of some strip mall storefront in an inexpensive part of town.

As the years pass, he will feel ready to take on the challenge of running his own church, probably a reasonably successful suburban church similar to the one that employed him as an assistant. If he choose to become the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Skunk Hollow, West Virginia, he will probably move on to a larger church in a larger city. Unless our pastor is fired, a very real possibility in some denominations, it is likely he will end his full time career at this church. Pastors never completely retire. They come back as temporary ministers. Somebody has to do the job until the man given the left boot of fellowship is replaced. Football teams and Protestant churches don’t know that one of the basic laws of good management is, “Don’t fire someone until you are certain you have someone better to replace him.”

If the young man is a star, at some point he will go back to graduate school, earn a Th. D. write a book on some arcane topic, and become the pastor of the First Church of the Mercedes Benz in a place like Dallas or Atlanta. His sermons will appear on local television. If he is something special, his show might be syndicated on a national basis. He won’t gain weight. His hair will remain thick and turn silver. His books will sell copies numbered in the millions and thousands will attend his funeral.

Now that is what you call a career.

For most of us, our career is at least something of a disappointment. When we are young we have so much hope, so many dreams. Then life gets in the way of our desires. Happiness, it is said, is the differential between expectation and reality. If our reality exceeded our expectations we are a success. If reality falls, short we view ourselves as failures.

Callings seem to come in two flavors those that we bring upon ourselves and those that come from a higher power.

Once you make the decision to become man and wife, you have a calling. You have sworn a pretty serious oath before God and man. If you are a man you now have the calling to provide for and protect your wife. If you are a woman you have sworn to become a faithful helpmate to your husband.

What were two has become one.

Becoming a parent is an even more serious calling. At least you made the decision to get married. Your child had no say in the matter. Unfortunately, nearly half of our marriages end in divorce, but only in the rarest most extreme cases is a parent and a child legally or permanently separated.

The other kind of calling just kind of sneaks up on you, sometimes unbidden and unexpected. It is hard to believe that I am still writing this blog after more than six years. Thirty years ago or even ten years ago I doubt that you could have convinced me that I would be spending this much time helping others find answers to their personal finance questions.

God willing, you might want to question me in another twenty years, but today I am of the opinion that both kinds of callings always contains a blessing and they always make you a blessing to others.

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