This is part 2 of a three part series on Thriving after College. Access the rest of the series here:
“The hardest thing for me,” Briana told me when I asked her about her life after graduation, “was managing my time with a job that seemed to take everything out of me.” Without a clear understanding of her gifts, she struggled. Figuring out “networking relationships” in the workplace left her tired.
Martyn agreed that transitioning from college to a job was a tough adjustment. His office job schedule, working from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. five days a week, and having to buy and prepare his own food took all his time.
Their experiences reminded me of a famous commencement speech. In “This Is Water,” his 2005 address to the graduates at Kenyon College, writer David Foster Wallace warned that there are large parts of adult American life no one talks about. The average adult day, he cautioned, involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration.
He paints a vivid picture of what comes at the end of the 8–10 hour workday:
You’re tired, and somewhat stressed, and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be, but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.
His prescription for surviving the tedium? Attentiveness. He says the everyday banalities of adult life must be met with the practice of attentiveness to other humans around us. I must enter empathetically into the reality that I am not the only person in the world, nor the most important one. We must live as if other people are real beings, with feelings, and to live that way requires “myriad petty, unsexy” choices. A kind word for the grocery store checkout person. Forgiveness for the guy who stole your parking spot. A smile for the harried barista.
Such small gestures were far from my mind when I graduated from college full of idealistic hopes for my future. I wanted to change the world, to really make a difference. I wanted a life of adventure, chock-full of meaning. What I gradually learned was that actually changing the world takes time, attention, rootedness to a place, and a lot of daily, boring tasks. It involves making photocopies and washing dishes, line editing and diaper changing.
But all of those things are part of my vocation. Os Guiness writes that our primary vocation, or calling, is a calling to Someone—God—“not to something (such as motherhood, politics, or teaching) or to somewhere (such as the inner city or Outer Mongolia).” First and foremost, we are called to God.
As God’s people, we are to be a faithful presence in the world (as James Davison Hunter would call it). “Saving the world” by holding babies in a majority world orphanage or bringing clean water to a thirsty village might seem more important than filing papers in a law office or balancing a budget for a family business. “Saving the world” certainly gets you more Facebook likes on your photos. But a desire to have a glamorous, prestigious, or even an obviously meaningful job can distract us from the other ways we are called to live faithfully as God’s people in God’s world.
The psalmist instructs us, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart”. When you embrace your primary calling—a calling to God, to be God’s, to delight in God—the next steps will become clear. When you delight in God, God shapes the desires of your heart to match God’s own desires for you. Whether you’re making photocopies or dinner or a six-figure salary, you can be a faithful presence in a world of tedium.
This is part 3 of a three part series on Thriving after College. Access the rest of the series here: