Sometimes I ask to sneak a closer look/ Skip to the final chapter of the book/ And then maybe steer us clear from some of the pain it took/ to get us where we are this far/ But the question drowns in its futility/ And even I have got to laugh at me/ No one gets to miss the storm of what will be/ Just holding on for the ride…
–From “The Wood Song” by Indigo Girls
Last Wednesday evening I had the privilege of speaking to a theology class at Santa Clara University during a short trip there. Since the course focuses on the subject of vocation and most of its students are graduating seniors, I was pleased when one of the students confessed her struggle to search for a job that will support her financially, and simultaneously fulfill her genuine desire to find personal meaning and purpose in her career path.
Her comment begged for a response, and I was eager to give one after spending four years at SCU among numerous friends who wrestled with this very predicament. I told her that it is important that she consider the type of lifestyle she wants to sustain just as she considers the types of careers she wants to pursue. These go hand in hand in real life, but they are infrequently juxtaposed in talk about vocation at SCU. I also told her that sometimes we come into a less than ideal role and make must choose to make it our vocation; if vocation is “finding our personal calling by aligning our gifts and aspirations with what we see as the deepest needs of our world,” as SCU puts it, sometimes that means finding a “calling” in the workplace we are in and simply make it a space of meaningful work.
Finally, though, I told her how I have personally dealt with the tension of finding a sustainable lifestyle and a meaningful career: I have chosen to sacrifice certain things in lifestyle to make my life’s vocation my career. Not everyone wants this, or can do this, and I feel fortunate that I have had the necessary opportunities so far.
I want to do academic theology and writing, so I have arranged my commitments such that I can pursue them. This comes along with a certain lifestyle, and I know that it runs the risk of potentially racking up a lot of loans and enduring a trying job search. But it is worth it for me right now.
While I said that (and meant it!) on Wednesday, the days since have brought a lot of struggle with the way I have chosen to live my life right now. After a little over four months in Los Angeles, I pack up soon for a few months in Seattle, then a new life in Boston come September. I am moving around due to incredible work and schooling opportunities—but it is difficult to be such a nomad sometimes. I am aching for stability in community, friendship, and environment right now. Every romantic relationship I have had since high school has turned into a long-distance situation due to the pull of schooling and work on my part, or the part of my significant other. And no matter where I am, I am calling or emailing friends who now reside in their respective cities due to their own pursuits in work, schooling, or relationships.
Who am I to complain, right? That’s what I tell myself sometimes. I am amazed at my good fortune. My family rightfully teases me about my (seemingly) glamorous traveling lifestyle. Yet even the blessing of pursuing my vocation comes with certain sacrifices. Throughout my childhood I dreamed of heading out of my hometown to explore the greater world with an exciting career—but now there are moments when a small part of me envies my friends who have stable jobs, apartments with real furniture, Sunday night dinners with mom and dad, and Friday night dates with their significant others. And sometimes I worry: Am I really aware of all that I am sacrificing for this? Is it really worth it?
A consoling internal voice reminds me that I cannot honestly see myself living out any other of lifestyle and vocation than the ones I have now. I wouldn’t be me. I wouldn’t be content. But that doesn’t mean the costs of all this don’t make me sad or lonely sometimes. They do.