Issue: Fall/Winter 2012
Life's Persistent Questions
As a 17-year-old college freshman, I was convinced that I was going to play professional baseball. I discovered, though, that when a 5 foot 10 inch 150-pound kid says something like this out loud he’s bound to get some interesting looks. While my dream remained, I knew I needed to find a different answer to the “What are you going to do with your life?” question.
Wrestling with questions about my talents and preferences – coupled with Christian ideals about vocation, calling, and a desire to make a difference in the world – proved to be a difficult and ongoing struggle. These questions persist throughout our lives and require re-answering on a regular basis. Fortunately, I have had a community of individuals, wise and experienced, who have helped guide me in that questioning and evaluation process.
In the Career Services Office at Houghton, we strive to provide this same kind of community for students and alumni, both through our individual relationships with them and by helping to connect them with tools and individuals that can help guide them through their own questioning and decision making.
Life at a Standstill
Like many students, “John” prefers to have his life carefully planned out, everything from what he’ll wear tomorrow to what job he’ll hold when he’s fifty. Although only 18, he thought for years that he wanted to work in a chemistry lab, but for some time had been unable to shake the feeling that he was missing out on some great adventure by being in school. He is unable to concentrate on assignments, listen to lectures or cultivate friendships. The metaphorical walls of his life, which had seemed so stable only weeks before, now seemed to be collapsing.
He filled out a career assessment and we talked through the results during several meetings. While I know he hoped to quickly discover answers that would allow him to regain some sense of normalcy in his life, the process has proven more painstaking as we dug deeper into the ways in which he prefers to live and the expectations he feels from others.
At the end of our last conversation, I suggested that he talk to a few individuals who work in the professions that most interest him to find out what they like and dislike about their work, what steps they took to get there, and what advice and recommendations they might have for him. I believe John is moving in the right direction and beginning to more fully understand himself, the gifts that God has given him, and how he might use those to find joy and meaning while furthering the Kingdom.
Pointed in All Directions
Perhaps one of the most common refrains I hear from students is this: “I like so many different things; how can I pick just one?” “Jane” has struggled with this for the past three years. She began visiting our office as a freshman trying to figure out what to do with her time on campus outside of the classroom and what to do with her summers. Now a senior, she has a wonderful resume, including a recent summer internship with a fashion company in New York City which she acquired through a connection with a Houghton alum. She has an offer to return to NYC after graduation but feels that if she takes the job , she will miss out on the other areas of life she loves.
Part of what seems overwhelming to many students is the need to feel they must decide their entire life before they enter college; if they reach their senior year and are still unsure, then there must be something wrong with them. I reminded Jane that while her job will take up a large portion of her time, it should never define her as a person. Just because she doesn’t spend equal time at each of her passions does not mean that she will eliminate them from her life.
I encouraged Jane to move beyond her fears and pursue a number of options while she has the opportunity. When last we talked, she took solace in knowing that she does not need to decide her entire life right now, but simply move forward one step at a time.
I often wish that students could walk into my office, fill out a piece of paper and I could say, “Okay, here’s your job!” and provide them with their dream job for life. But I know this would be a tremendous disservice to the individuals I try to serve and would probably not work out well for anyone involved.
In his book Home Economics, Wendell Berry reminds us that the word “Education” stems from the Greek, meaning “to bring up to responsible maturity.” While we work to develop skills and knowledge in students that translate beyond Houghton, the education provided here has never been only about “career preparation.” In Berry’s words, “The inescapable purpose of education must be to preserve and pass on the essential means — the thoughts and words and works and ways and standards and hopes without which we are not human. To preserve these things and to pass them on is to prepare students for life.”
My job is to contribute to a community of education; to collectively and individually enable others to wrestle with their own questions about talents, preferences and vocation; not merely to prepare them for a job or a career, but to help prepare them for life.
Brian serves as career services coordinator and head baseball coach at Houghton College.