What are you passionate about? What kind of work feeds your soul?
My father worked 25 years at a chemical plant. His father–my grandfather–worked and died in the coal mines of Kentucky. My father-in-law worked 20+ years at a series of power plants belonging to TVA, power plants his father helped build.
My father managed the trains: driving the engines as they pulled the cars full of coal and before that, applying brakes to all the separate cars. He was the other kind of engineer—the kind that doesn’t have a four-year-degree and “a head full of knowledge but no practical sense.” His words, not mine.
I never asked my dad what he wanted to do with his life. If I had, I think he would have looked at me sideways because it wasn’t the kind of question people asked themselves when their dads worked in coal mines and their best friends died in Vietnam. He graduated from high school, got married, and moved south for a “good job” that would pay the bills and leave him a little time for fun on his days off, which weren’t necessarily the weekends.
Dad never took a personality profile to determine what profession suited him. He never did an interests inventory to learn what he should do. He never completed an MBTi, and he would probably have thought Enneagram was dumb. As far as I know, He never spent time reflecting on what God created him to do and be. No, he found a long-term job and he took it. I don’t think he hated the work, and he enjoyed his coworkers (although none of them ever came over for dinner), so he wasn’t miserable. But I’m fairly sure his work didn’t feed his soul.
By the time I finished middle school, my peers and I knew we wanted to go to college, and we had grand schemes of how we would change the world. We didn’t worry about having enough to eat or getting evicted from our homes. We could dream about our futures! We could pursue our passions because our fathers worked hard to keep us in the middle class. (Side note: It’s almost impossible for a family to live on one blue-collar paycheck these days. Those were different times.)
I went to college, but before I finished my bachelor’s degree, I knew I wouldn’t spend my life in that field. This fact didn’t bother me. I felt no pressure to jump straight into work and start making money. I found a part-time retail job while I looked for “real” employment.
My husband spent seven years on his bachelor’s degree. We laugh about it now, but in what country and what culture do people get to do that? Only those privileged to have working, supportive parents. (By the way, both our mothers took part-time jobs when we were in grade school, too.)
Fast forward. I have two degrees, and the work I do now has little to do with either. My husband has three degrees (two masters, not a PhD), and his work is only slightly related to what he studied in any of those programs. We’re over educated (and under paid), but we spend our days doing something we love, and we make ends meet with God’s help.
Why do we get to live like this?
How can we spend months looking for employment that “fits our passion and calling”?
Why do we move from position to position, searching for work that feeds our souls?
We can do it because our fathers didn’t. They didn’t pursue their passions. Instead, they provided for their families, making sure we were educated and had the freedom to do whatever kind of work we wanted. While I think they were okay with how things turned out, it’s time to acknowledge the privilege I enjoyed…still enjoy.
This privilege has nothing to do with the color of my skin, my gender, or the shape of my accent (except for how racism has made family life much more difficult for some). This privilege involves having a person in the home who accepted his responsibility to provide for his family. Not everyone gets that.
I recognize this is privilege. Some people around me are in the position of my father, or my grandfather, who never finished high school. For some, a long-term job with decent pay is the dream. I respect them.
At the same time, I don’t feel guilty about my privilege. I feel grateful. And I feel responsible to honor the sacrifice of my father’s passion by chasing hard after my own. I think he’d be okay with that too.
The reason I get to be a writer and work for a non-profit, the reason my husband is on career number 5? It’s because our fathers put in their time at work to pay the bills. My #privilege is not based on merit and it’s #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)Tweet
I’ve been thinking on this subject for a couple of years, and in these days when “privilege” is on everyone’s lips, plus Father’s Day just passed, it seems appropriate to finally share it with you. Hope you don’t mind the divergence from my typical Bible study format. In the comments, let me know your thoughts on privilege and how God has opened your eyes recently. I look forward to hearing from you.
Books that influenced this thought process:
- Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller
- Hillybilly Elegy, J.D. Vance