Catholicism: Day 27 – The Correct Pursuits (2 of 2)

During this week’s spiritual exercises, my thoughts keep drifting back to my day job. It’s clear I need to put more effort into sorting this mess out.

During my Stoicism month, I did my best to cultivate detachment from everyday work annoyances. That was mostly successful.

However, there is this constant, nagging feeling that I’m spending 40 hours per week doing something that’s not what I should be doing.

Of course, what I should be doing is very unclear.

In my last post I wrote about the clarity the spiritual exercises provided with regards to my non-day job related pursuits: The Ancient Wisdom Project and volunteering with Miriam’s Kitchen.

When I think about my day job during these exercises, my thought process becomes a big mess. I have all sorts of conflicting ideas and thoughts about my work. Should I try to find a different job at another company? Should I switch industries entirely? Should I just be thankful I have a job and focus on getting promoted? Should I just go on auto-pilot mode with my day job and use all extra energy to focus on outside pursuits?

These thoughts aren’t unusual. I’m sure everyone has had them at one time or another.

The central feature of these concerns is that they are very self-centered. They focus on what I want.

The Jesuits encourage you to pay attention to your desires, but your desires are still subsidiary to what God wants, and specifically, what God is calling you to do.

They also elevate this discussion to the level of finding your vocation, not just finding a career.

Father James Martin explains that, “Vocation overarches our work, jobs, and career and extends to the kind of person we hope to become. It is what we are called to do, and who we are called to be.”

I’m not even sure you need to be Christian or even believe in God to make this factor useful in finding your vocation, as one of its main purposes is to get you focused on something other than you. This feature alone may lead to better decision-making.

While most of us are familiar with the idea of developing your skills and match them to the demands of the market, the Jesuits call us to align those skills with the “deepest needs of our world.”

Ignatian spirituality offers a different wisdom on vocation. It counsels us to discover our personal calling by aligning our gifts and aspirations with what we see as the deepest needs of our world. For people of faith, that convergence is where the Spirit of God invites them to a unique path. Prayerful reflection opens us to those fundamental desires and to compassion for the world. An authentic calling goes beyond personal fulfillment to a concern for justice that asks about fulfilling the needs of others, even if they are strangers.

This is deeper than simply doing something the market finds valuable. It is asking you to do something more meaningful, to use your skills and aspirations to serve others, not just to meet a market demand so you can serve yourself with a cool lifestyle.

But still, many people feel the desire to do good in the world. That doesn’t mean they know the best way to do that.

The Jesuit practice of discernment takes this into account by encouraging people to also take into account external realities. The means by which a recent college graduate can server others will be very different than an established executive can server others.

Those fundamental hopes and desires, however, are only half the story. As Hesse pointed out, there has to be an external aspect to a calling, a situation in which our hopes can be realized. Hopes without any grounding in reality or actual prospects of realization lure us to frustration. Time and again, Ignatius found that his dreams did not correspond with the facts on the ground. He could not be a shaggy hermit and also be of service to people in the public arena. He could not preach the Gospel without going back to school to learn Latin, philosophy and theology. He and his companions could not fulfill their dream of going to the Holy Land, because there was a war on. They wanted to be itinerant preachers, but found that what their world actually needed was schools and solid learning.

You may want to cure cancer, but if you’ve been failing your biology classes, it may be time to consider that you are called to serve others in some other way. Or perhaps you just need to improve your study habits if, after practicing discernment, you still feel drawn to the mission of curing cancer.

I like this story of a financial analyst who eventually left his job to work in a faith community that helped people with learning disabilities.

He didn’t just quit his job at the first sign of desolation. He started training as a counselor outside of work. He investigated different options to make contributions that were more spiritually fulfilling.

When he was offered the opportunity to work reduced hours at his day job (not quit it entirely), he calculated if he could afford it (which he could) and then used that extra day to volunteer.

Over time, he learned to pay attention to what energized him and provided consolation (volunteering, serving others), and what drained him and caused desolation (his day job).

Eventually, an opportunity to work full time with an organization he felt passionate about presented itself, and he took it.

Having recently taken time out to reflect deeply upon my life over the past two years, I have realized just how bright it has been; how I have been given so much life, so much love, so much consolation.  I feel very grateful for that.  Life has not been without its challenges and its desolation, but they are also signposts on the journey and give me an inner sense of navigation towards where my life is heading.

I feel excited at what God has in store for me.  I feel free and alive at the thought of going to help where the need is greatest.  Over past years I have wished to live this life but have always been held back, always found reasons to stay the same.  LJV has helped me to embrace life, to change and to welcome God wherever I find Him.  I am inspired as I see the community growing and developing.  LJV has helped me to hear the whisper and to answer the call.

I suggest reading the entire post as you’ll see that his path to finding his vocation was non-linear. It was messy and confusing. It required him to pay attention to the deepest feelings within him and align it to some greater good. He made decisions that were based in reality, not fantasy.

His discernment process took into account what he wanted, what he thought God wanted, and what reality offered him.

Most of us just focus on what we want.

Once we become less naïve, we focus on what we want and what reality offers (or what the markets want).

I suspect that once we are able to add “God’s will” to our decision-making criteria, we will ultimately make better decisions.

I’m not quite sure how to apply this to my own struggles with my pursuit to find my vocation.

Currently, I feel drawn to fields that involve writing about interesting ideas.

This is still too vague for the purposes of finding an actual job, but it does give me a starting point for investigation.

As for what God wants, that’ll be a little tougher to discern, especially for an agnostic like myself, but I’ll look for opportunities to serve others, not just the markets.