When I interviewed for my current job, my boss was very clear that the company culture was one of "working to live" rather than "living to work."
On the surface that made sense and, consequently, was exactly the type of work culture I was looking for.
But for all the wrong reasons.
Some of my earliest jobs were horrific. Long hours, low pay, uncomfortable working situations. I worked in a mall during the holidays (more than once pulling a 12+ hour shift). I worked for a company that demanded overtime yet refused to pay more than $1000 per month in salary. I worked for a development company where I was cussed out daily by my supervisor for no apparent reason.
I have had several jobs where the idea of working for the sheer enjoyment of working was a hugely foreign concept.
Now, though, I work for a company I respect with people I trust doing a job I enjoy. It's quite remarkable, actually, considering how I got to where I am.
I went straight from my undergraduate program into grad school. I finished that program in a year and struck out into the workforce with 3 different college degrees and little job experience. It took me 4 months to find a retail job through Craigslist due to my relative inexperience.
I puttered along for awhile, taking odd jobs on the side. Those odd jobs got me an internship consulting in Seattle, and that internship eventually landed me a marketing position with a Portland-based startup.
To keep my job at that startup (cash was tight, so every employee needed to wear many hats to justify their salary), I started dabbling in web design. First with WordPress, which I already knew from my blog. Then with Visual Basic because our CTO demanded I work with Microsoft products.
I started my college career with the intention of becoming a teacher. As I moved through college I gradually transitioned into public policy and then on to marketing. I applied for my first jobs with the goal of working in marketing ... yet now I work full time as a software developer.
And until recently, I resented that fact.
Last night's sermon was the first in a series on work. I know the speaker wasn't addressing things specifically to me, but some of his illustrations hit home.
First of all, work is a blessing from God. In the beginning, we were created to work and were blessed when God gave us work to do. As a result of sin, though, this work became hard and toilsome. But it's still a blessing to have work to do.
The issue is that we tend to focus on the difficulty of the job we do and transfer that frustration onto all work in general. We become discouraged by the continuing challenges of our jobs and translate that into hating our 9-5 routines.
The best message I took from last night's sermon was the dichotomy between vocation and occupation. Your occupation is your job - the actual position of employment you hold and the work you do every day in order to make end's meet. Your vocation is the good work that God has called you to. It's your calling.
On the surface, they seem pretty similar. At the heart of things, they're very easy to distinguish.
Your vocation is work that fills you, helps others, and glorifies God. You can find your vocation in the regular work you do in your job, but you don't have to. The speaker used stay-at-home parents as a solid example of people doing good work (vocation) without receiving a paycheck (occupation). That illustration helped put things in perspective for me.
Well, that, and a specific question he asked towards the end of the sermon: "What if your calling is to design software?"
I had never considered my work to be a calling. I always assumed that I had fallen in to my job completely by accident. That I was in my current job through luck and luck alone. But as I reflect on the path I took to get here, it's hard to see luck in that picture.
So I'm working now to recognize the places God is calling me to be. To recognize the work He is laying out for me. To determine whether I really want to "work to live" or "live to work" as He intended.
"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."