The What and Who of Vocational Exploration
by John Kyle
I have the pleasure of working with a lot of college seniors and other young adults who are thinking about their career options. Some are pretty sure about what they want to do. Others are mostly unsure about it.
Making these decisions is hard because we don’t have a lot of (accurate) information about the world of work before we actually start working. Our views of work might have been formed by television shows like Suits, Grey’s Anatomy, or The Office. Maybe we envisioned work looking like the careers of our favorite musicians and actors. Maybe we learned about work from Mom and Dad. Or, like many young people, maybe our ideas about work have mainly been formed in college where we have primarily learned the theories and concepts of a field of interest, but not as much about practical, day-to-day work life.
What? The Typical Starting Point
Many young people start their career exploration with the question: “What should I do?” This might come in various forms. What career or role is best for my skills and interests? What field is God calling me into? The “What should I do?” question is good and right for anyone to ask as they start their career.
Along with this question, there should be some other questions: What interests me about this field? Are my interests consistent with a biblical worldview or are some of my interests selfish? What do I know about this field and how did I learn those things? Specifically, is my knowledge of this field based in reality or is it mainly informed by TV, movies, social media, cultural values, etc.?
Who? The Better Starting Point
While “What should I do?” is a good place to start career exploration, I encourage young people to also ask, “Who am I?” I have found this to be a better place to start.
For Christians, this question cannot be answered without also asking “Who is God?” As his image-bearers (Gen. 1:26-27), we can only understand ourselves as we consider Him. This is extremely relevant to career exploration because we bear his image in every aspect of life – at work, at home, at church, and in society.
A Practical Example
Let’s consider a real example. Each year, several fellows in our network are considering medical school. When asked why they’re drawn into medicine, many of them express an interest in science combined with a desire to help people. Sometimes they will also admit it doesn’t hurt that society holds doctors in very high regard and that they are well compensated.
When we talk about these things, I like them to dig into the motivation to help people. Why do people need medical help? Because people are broken, sick and dying. Our rebellion against God introduced suffering and death. In response to our sin, God promised a solution and revealed himself as the Helper and the Healer.
Someone in the medical field can have a keen sense of the image they bear at work by understanding these things about God. They can see that their vocation, as my friend Steve Garber says, is integral not incidental to the mission of God. The Who am I? and Who is God? questions provide a solid footing for vocational exploration.
Being Prepared When Reality Strikes
Imagine a young person that is thinking about med school. Imagine that they have done all this work to explore these questions and are now feeling called to uniquely reflect this aspect of God’s image. In other words, they sense God is calling them to be a healer.
Then, after studying for many hours for the MCAT, their scores are not good enough to get into med school. Perhaps they try again, even multiple times, but to no avail. This is a heartbreaking scenario that prompts the question, “Now what?”
At first glance, all that work to understand their calling may seem wasted. And yet, we know God wastes nothing. What is needed is not a different sense of calling but a change of perspective. First, there are plenty of other ways to bring healing through other roles in the medical field. Second, there are plenty of other aspects of human life that require healing, such as mental health or family therapy. Third, if we think really strategically about it, this young person can bring their call to be a healer to just about any role in any industry – banking, tech, education, public policy, etc.
Seeing vocation this way, with a mind transformed by scripture, opens the door to vocational freedom. Not getting into medical school doesn’t have to be a train wreck. It’s just more information about God’s plan. Understanding our calling and living as image-bearers frees us to find joy in real circumstances.
God is more than a healer. For example, if you are in or are considering the law profession, it might be helpful to remember that Jesus sits at the right hand of God actively advocating for us and for justice and mercy. If you are thinking about the teaching profession, remember that the most common title given to Jesus in the Bible is “Teacher.” By leading young people in knowledge, you are reflecting this aspect of who he is. I could go on with examples of God’s character being reflected in different types of work.
What About You?
If you are about to graduate from college or have recently graduated, I encourage you to join one of the TFI fellows programs where you can really go deep with the Lord in these questions of vocation and purpose. If you’re already working, I encourage you to go deep as well, to understand God’s calling on you to reflect him where you are working now and where he might be leading you next.
Join a Fellows Program
We are accepting fellows applications for all of the programs in the TFI network. If you are a college senior, recent graduate, or knows someone that is, please take a look at the TFI Common Application. You can apply to three programs at once with no application fee.
Being a fellow is an amazing way to launch your career after college! As a fellow you will have a paid job in your field of interest. You will take graduate courses in bible, theology, leadership, and cultural engagement. You will have many opportunities to use your gifts serving in the church and city. You will have a personal mentor.
The early application deadline, November 30th, is approaching soon! Click here to apply today!
Not sure which program to join? You can learn more about the 30 fellows programs in our network by clicking here.
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TFI is working with churches across the country to inspire and equip emerging leaders for the church, workplace and society. We are 30 programs strong with 280 fellows each year and 2,400 alumni!
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