Today is A Level Results Day. For those of my friends overseas that may not be familiar with it, A Levels are qualifications undertaken by 16-18 year old students as a means of furthering their education and opening a gateway to university. It is a pretty important day and I remember it well, especially all the nerves that go with it!
Many years have gone since I opened the envelope containing what felt like my future. Turns out I got the grades I needed to start university.
Massive sigh of relief.
What if the enclosed paper did not read back to me what I wanted it to? What if I had failed? What if I missed the grades I needed for that course I wanted to go on? For many students, they may feel disappointed at their results today and be experiencing all sorts of emotions and thoughts. They may be asking: ‘What would my friends think? My teachers? My family? The world? Would they think me as a failure? Incapable? Incompetent? Useless? Unlucky? Left behind? No good?’
Believe it or not, these thoughts have entered my own mind recently.
Recently. And frequently.
And I achieved good A-Levels. And I attained a brilliant, top degree classification too.
In the eyes of the world, I have done well academically.
Why would I see myself in such a negative light?
I am about to talk to you as a recovering career idolater.
I have been struggling with the question that most people ask me when they first meet me.
What do you do?
Or it’s sister question: Where do you work?
I have been wresting with these questions for well over a year. (I know. I need a hobby…) Moving to a new place and a new church and a new job, you meet a LOT of people who want to know what you have done, what you do, and what you hope to do. Do. Do. Do.
Whatever happened to done, done, done?
We are forever trying to do more, be more, get more, that we seldom get anything done. We are always looking to the next thing we have to do, rather than resting in what has been done already.
What frustrates me as someone who spent 9 months unemployed after graduating, is the amount of interest people have in my job or career. And what’s worse – the amount of time I have spent comparing myself to others and their chosen path of work!
A career even sounds more fanciful and desirable that a job, for goodness sake! *face palm*
‘A job is a job’. It seems pretty straightforward. Black and white.
A career boldly proclaims direction, potential, achievement, qualifications, well thought-about, planned, a promotion. We tend to react to certain careers and jobs more than others, even if we do this in our heads. Society has crafted our ideas and understanding about the status of certain roles and professions. There are good and bad to all jobs/careers, but there are stereotypical thoughts that we carry.
- Hi, I’m Ken.
- Hi Ken, nice to meet you. Have you been around here long?
- No, fairly new to the area.
- Ah, ok. So, what do you do?
- I’m a graduate in history, and I work at Pizza City.
- Hi, I’m Amy.
- Hi Amy, what do you do?
- I am a consultant oncologist at the hospital.
- Hi, my name is John.
- Hi John, I’m Sally. Where do you work?
- I work as a journalist for a national newspaper in London, but I am here visiting family. Yourself?
- Oh, I am a cleaner at a business park.
As you read through these conversations, you may have had similar discussions with others, although they would be different people with different jobs perhaps. People want to know what you do for a living as soon as they meet you. Have you ever stopped to consider how alienating and hard this is for someone who is unemployed or struggling in their current job? Perhaps when reading the above conversations, you had assumptions about the specific roles that each person had.
Society places a great deal of emphasis on what we do for a living. Where we work and what we do are very important in our culture in the UK. To be out of work has negative connotations – people are often seen as lazy and living on benefits. But can all people out of work be classed as lazy? What about the mother who chooses to stay at home to look after her children? The graduate who has been applying for jobs for months with no success? How about the father who is balancing a part time job with looking after his children and his wife, who has a chronic illness? We make assumptions about what people do. We constantly ask others about their jobs, studies, what they want to do in 5 years time…
I am not saying that we cannot aim high, have goals, and chat about it with others.
However, I am saying that there is a danger that we have turned our jobs and careers into idols. We are slowly becoming obsessed with our positions in the workplace, and comparing them to others. We will become a nation that continues to strive until we get to where we want to be and still we will ask the same question that we did after our A-Level results: What Next?
When you have attained all that the world thinks you should attain and have become the best of the best, what next? Jobs and careers can be very good things when put in their proper context. But they quickly become very toxic when you idolize and intertwine yourself with it so much that it becomes your identity. You live for it. You breathe it in. If it was taken away from you, you couldn’t live without it. You constantly think about the next job you should have.
As I said earlier, I am a recovering career idolater. I am recovering, because I am still struggling. It is not easy. But I have come to a point that I have realised how damaging it is to worship a career. My specific problem is that I have wrestled with the ‘what next?’ question so many times that I have started to spend countless hours researching the following: journalism, nursing, writing, theology, job searches, charity work etc. I would write countless pros and cons lists, change my mind so frequently that I named these frequent changes ‘wim of the week’, and feel no peace at all about anything! It hindered rather than helped because my focus was on myself, not God.
I realise that I am writing this post with myself in mind, but I really believe we are in a society that worships what we do for a living. I have felt so pressured for months to try and justify to others why I did a degree in one subject and am now working in a completely unrelated field. It seems embarrassing, like I have wasted opportunities or taken a step backward. Why should I feel like that? Simply because everyone wants to know what I do and I fear a judgement based on what I know about society. It disguises itself as an inseparable part of my identity. Let’s take the mask off! It is NOT what defines me! I will no longer be defined by what I do for a living.
My identity is in God.
‘But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’ John 1:12
He is the reason I live and breathe. He created me. He sustains me. He strengthens me. He equips me. He provides for me. He loves me. He guides me. He knows me. He protects me. Whatever I do, I do it to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17).
The issue is am I worshiping the Lord only? Or have potential career/job ideas become so prominent in my daily life that I am spending so much of my time idolizing the ‘what next’? He does not place such a burden on us like society does. It is the demands of society that can make the soul weary. God brings us life through His Son Jesus that we might have an abundant life (John 10:10).
When A-Level results are opened today and the ‘what next’ is on the lips of many, lets pray that hearts will be turned to the God who establishes the next steps, whilst we are called to worship Him in the here and now.
The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9