NEW ORLEANS (BP) — We can all imagine a different life on a parallel track, but we can only live one track at a time.
I was reading an article by a physician who was disappointed by his profession. He would not recommend a medical career for his own children and felt that his ideals were betrayed by the system of which he was a part.
My thought: These feelings affect all of us no matter what profession we have chosen. Lawyers become disillusioned with the practice of law. Politicians are disappointed by politics. Members of the clergy suffer from the loss of ideals and the problems of ministry.
We expect our vocation, our calling, to be more than an occupation, a job. We all want to make our contribution and make a positive difference in the quality of life on this planet through our daily routine of work. We want to be significant, and most of us expect to achieve significance through our work.
At mid-career, we are often disappointed. All work turns out to be routine to some extent. All human systems are oppressive in some ways. Serving as a minister and pastor, I sometimes wonder if anyone is listening. Some days I watch the clock, put in my hours and hurry home to yard work and a good book.
Such feelings about the shortcomings of our vocations and professions are based on truth. The fact is, we cannot routinely achieve at life-changing, world-changing levels. A sense of ordinariness sets in for us all.
We all question our chosen professions. We wonder if our specific work really makes a difference in the lives of people. We second-guess our career path, our choice of training and vocation, and we wonder if life would have been more significant had we gone another way.
Some people do need to change careers, some of them immediately. If our work is not honorable — honest and helpful — then we must consider something else. If we are a poor fit for our current vocation, then a change may be necessary.
Most of us, though, are deeply invested in our current track and remain where we are planted. Rather than jumping ship, we work through the sense of futility. We come to terms with the system of which we are a part. We learn to manage the tedious tasks — paperwork will never seem earth-shaking — and emphasize in our minds the rewarding interactions with co-workers and clients.
The suicide of Robin Williams reminds me that even people who seem to “have it all” may be desperate, may feel trapped and may even wonder if their life is worth living. At least some of the frustration and despair that creeps over me concerning my work is more about my inner condition than about my occupation.
I remind myself that work in itself is a good thing. I am glad to get up in the morning knowing I have a job that supports me and my family. Honest work — gainful employment — is a positive aspect of life on this planet.
Every occupation affords moments of delightful interchange and interesting challenge. While these may be rarer than we wish, they are still “part of the job” and a reason for celebration and gratitude.
My job occupies a substantial part of my time and attention, but not all. Having paid the bills through my work, I am now liberated some evenings and weekends to invest resources in other pursuits that bring their own rewards and delights. These hobbies and avocations could end up being the source of my greatest contribution.
Work is not everything, but it is vitally important to most of us. We should give thanks for the paycheck, the important relationships that work provides and the sense of significance that any honest work rightly affords.
We also give thanks for all the people who faithfully do their jobs, invisible though they may be. Practically everything we do is predicated on the work of others. A constant sense of gratitude for the work of those who support us is an honest and fair response to their labors. And it will counter feelings of futility about the part we play in keeping the wheels turning, the water running and the children safely playing in the place where we live.
David E. Crosby is pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans.