Rick Warren writes in The Purpose Driven Life:
We have all heard people say, “I took a job I hate in order to make a lot of money, so someday I can quit and do what I love to do.” That’s a big mistake. Don’t waste your life in a job that doesn’t express your heart. Remember, the greatest things in life are not things. Meaning is far more important than money.
Someone might say, “That’s hard to do in the current economic environment.” And yes, it can be.
But Warren is making a much wider point here that goes to the issue of how we think about jobs in general. We need to stay away from the mindset of “deferred purpose.” That is, don’t fall for the view that your job is merely or even primarily about earning money, such that you need to take whatever job you can get now (or whatever pays the most) with the aim of doing what you really want later. If you do this, chances are the “later” will never come. When you chose a job, you are often choosing not just a job, but a path.
Further, the “deferred purpose” approach only takes into account one dimension of ourselves — the economic. But, as the Bible teaches and management thinkers of today are also pointing out (such as Stephen Covey — see, for example, Principle-Centered Leadership or The 8th Habit), people are more than just economic beings. We are also social, talented, and spiritual. When choosing a job, you cannot isolate one dimension from the others. To take a job only for the money is to treat yourself as merely an economic being. We need to view our work not as just a way to earn a living, but as something which in itself ought to engage the social, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of human nature.
And, when you do this, you will be more effective in your job. (Interestingly, it is not only the case that people who work for more more than money are more effective; it is also the case that companies that exist for a purpose beyond making money are also more effective. See, for example, Jim Collins’ chapter “More than Profit” in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies).
Warren’s point here also relates to the way many people today think of retirement. The common notion of retirement is that you work for 40 years or so in a job (or series of jobs) that you may not like in order to build up a large retirement account so that when you retire from work altogether around 65 (or maybe earlier, if you can save effectively enough) you can then be completely free from work to do whatever you want. And, much of the time (but not all of the time), the things people “really want” to do focus on their comfort, taking it easy, and recreation.
Tim Ferris, in The 4-Hour Workweek, does a good job of exploding this notion of retirement. He basically says “why do what you don’t want to do for 40 years and put off what you really want to do to the end of your life?” But Ferris doesn’t take the concept far enough. He argues for taking frequent “mini-retirements” throughout your career. These retirements can be used for service, but that doesn’t come across as a primary emphasis.
What I would want to add to Ferris is a greater emphasis on utilizing these “mini-retirements” as a means of serving people — radically, creatively, and generously. There is some incredible and creative thought that can be given to this. Along with this, the extra time that can be freed up every day and every week simply by utilizing good productivity practices in our work is also an opportunity to give more time to serving others — and in creative ways, rather than with an “oh, I better put in my time helping out” mindset. (And this is amplified even further if we are in an environment that has a results-oriented philosophy of “work wherever, whenever, as long as the work gets done,” which sees performance as measured by what you produce and accomplish rather than by the amount of time you put in.)
But we need to go even beyond this. What Ferris seems to leave out is an affirmation of our work itself as an enjoyable, meaningful thing that is itself a means of doing good to others.
In other words, in addition to becoming more efficient and effective in our jobs so that we can have more free time to serve, we also need to see our jobs themselves as a means of serving. And, further, we need to take jobs that fire us up, that spark a passion in us, so that we are fully engaged and truly serving in the way that we are called to serve. We need to get away both from the mindset that says “I’ll do a job I hate for 40 years so I can retire with freedom and money,” and the mindset that, as Warren points out, says “I’ll do a job I hate for now so I can make a lot of money and then at some point do a job I love.” Avoid the deferred-purpose mindset. Find a job you love now, so that you can serve with maximum enthusiasm now — not in 20 years.
There’s one problem here, of course. In the current economic environment, it can be extra hard to find a job that you love. And I realize that some may indeed have to take a job mainly to pay the bills so they can get by for the short term. But, in doing that, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. And this means, first, avoid doing that if at all possible. Don’t give up too easily on finding a job you love, even in challenging economic times. And if you do find it, you will be more likely to keep it and advance (for enthusiasm drives effectiveness — it’s hard to get good at what you hate, but it’s easy to get good at what you love.). In fact, it could be said that the economy really needs more people to hold out for jobs they will love, because the result will be greater productivity throughout the entire economy as more and more people are in jobs where they love what they do.
Second, if you do have to take a job mainly to pay the bills for a season, you still can and should do that job diligently and from the heart. You can do that by doing it for the Lord, as Paul says in Ephesians 6:5-8. Be as effective as you can be, wherever you are (and, who knows, that may itself lead to something that really is a good fit in itself). More on this more specifically in another post, perhaps.
And, finally, if you do have to take a job you’d rather not in order to stay afloat, don’t let that season last too long. Before you know it, three or four or more years can go by, and you are off track. Be diligent. Do everything you can, as soon as you can, to get into a job you love. Obviously you won’t love everything about any job, and you will also have things to learn and grow into in any job and vocational trajectory. You won’t have instant success or instant effectiveness. But be vigilant and rigorous in finding a way, if you do have to “settle” for a time, to both make the most of the job you are presently in, and then get back into the role you really need to be in.