Changing jobs

Since we celebrated the 40th anniversary of our ordinations this year, I have been reflecting on how many people I know who have made major career changes in their lives and how few I know who have, like us, found a vocation early in life and had the luxury of remaining in that vocation for decades. Even those who remain in the same field, have experienced large changes in direction, focus, and the type of work they do. The big changes in our careers have been two events of leaving congregations we had been serving to accept a call to a new congregation. We served 7 years in our first call, 10 in our second and so far 23 in this call.

According to what I read, ours is not the course of the future for many people. Most young people entering their careers will experience multiple changes in career over the span of their working lives. Major shifts in the economy mean that there are many jobs of today that simply won’t exist in the future and many new jobs that are just emerging or that do not yet exist that will employ people in the future.

I know someone who used to be the owner of an independent bookstore who is now a corrections officer.

I have an acquaintance who once was a salesman and service technician in a bicycle shop and now is a nurse.

A good friend who was a graphic artist in the printing industry now is a clerk in a toy shop.

These people are far more common than folks like me who have only one career in their lives. I have colleagues who, like me, entered the ministry at a young age and have continued in that same career. Some of them, however, have gone from serving local churches to serving in mid-level or national judicatories. Others have followed their careers into specialized ministries of counseling, community development and other areas. I also have a lot of colleagues who have come to the ministry from a wide variety of other backgrounds.

I know a minister who was once a weather forecaster. Another came from a career in business. I know several who became ministers after retiring from military service. One is a former chemist. Another practiced law before ordination. I know a retired physician who now serves as a licensed lay minister.

Of course the joke in the ministry is that it pays to be independently wealthy before entering the profession. People are not attracted to the ministry because of the promise of high salaries. There are plenty who have taken very large decreases in pay in order to serve.

It is fashionable to advise others to “find your heat’s passion and pursue it.” Certainly it is a blessing to have a job that is doing what you feel called to do. But I think it is a mistake to create the illusion that a person might have only one true calling in life. I know people who ended up in their jobs because of circumstances and yet who are very happy in their line of work.

One of my uncles complained about his job nearly every time I was with him. He began to talk about retirement when he was in his forties and retired very close to his 65th birthday. His son, my cousin, followed him into the same field of work, complained just as much and retired as soon as he was able. Both had some wonderful experiences in their retirement, but endured a job that at least on the surface was less than fulfilling. In both cases the job that was disliked provided the means for the retirement that was enjoyed.

I know others who discovered their jobs by accident or at least by circuitous routes. One friend was laid off from an executive banking job in the midst of a large merger and ended up in the insurance industry. Another person became a realtor in a bit of a panic over a sudden unemployment. Both seem to be thriving in their new careers.

The world of work is shifting. The United States, once home to an economy that was based on manufacturing, is shifting to a service economy. We have a trade deficit when measured by goods imported vs goods exported, but we have a trade surplus when it comes to services. Items manufactured in other countries are designed in ours.

Our grandchildren may well be employed in jobs that do not exist today. When I was completing my education the position of computer programmer was a new and emerging field. There was no such thing as a job as a web designer or a computer systems administrator. If someone had announced that they were going to seek venture capital to start a new application, we would have thought of that person as out of their mind and destined to failure.

The world of work, like so much of our society, is changing so rapidly that it is hard to keep up.

In the midst of that rapidly changing world, however, there are still many who are called to vocations that are based on personal relationships. The world will always need pastors and teachers and nurses. Medical specialities will come and go as the art and science of medicine changes, but there still will be a need for those who change the bedding in hospitals and who provide care during times of recovery. Counselors will not be replaced with computer algorithms. Day cares will not be run by robots.

I have been blessed to have discovered my calling early enough in my life to devote decades to learning how to do my work. I’m still learning. I don’t feel that I have achieved the best that is possible. Each sermon is a new challenge and each day contains fresh opportunities. Boredom is not something that I fear. The challenges of maintaining long term relationships are as engaging as those of starting something new.

There will always be room for those who discover a singular vocation and pursue it for a lifetime. I feel blessed to be one of them.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!