NOW THAT THE SCHOOL YEAR HAS BEGUN, seniors in high school and college need to think through what they will do once it ends. It's time, therefore, to present my four-step formula for thinking through careers: End, Talent plus Enjoyment, Talent, Employment.
I can explain the first part of the formula by quoting and applying the most famous question from the catechism of the Westminster Confession, "What is man's chief end?" The answer: "Man's chief end [purpose] is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." In our careers, we glorify God by using full throttle, in godly ways, the talents He has given us. Since God does not give talent arbitrarily or willy-nilly-what He gives we should use-it's vital to find out what our talents are, because the existence of talent is a powerful way of ascertaining God's will for our occupational lives.
Discerning talent is easier said than done. Schools for the most part applaud generalists who can do well in a variety of subjects, but most occupations demand specialization: the ability to do one thing well. Grades used to be a powerful aid to discernment, but grade inflation now pushes teachers to deliver false signals. Out of ignorance or pseudo-friendship, few people are honest enough to call a splatter a splatter; instead, we tell those we like that they have created masterful paintings. It's important to find a mentor, colleague, or true friend who will be achingly honest.
Concerning enjoyment: Since forever begins right now, we should derive satisfaction as well as sweat from the way we earn our daily bread (realizing that thorns and thistles will frustrate us at times). That does not mean we will be laughing all the way as we earn money to take to the bank. It does mean that if we're miserable on a job, sometimes we need to change our attitudes and sometimes our jobs (keeping in mind that, whenever possible, we should not leave one job until we have another).
Here's my possible leap of fatheadness: I believe that most of the time the two questions-What work am I good at? What work do I like doing?-can be reduced to one, What work am I good at? That's because most of the time, if we're good at a particular occupation, sooner or later we will derive pleasure from our competence and from the feedback we get concerning our performance. To put it simply, we either like doing what we do well, or we grow into liking it. Of course, if young people don't enjoy a task, they will probably be reluctant to put in the time needed to further develop their talent-but my advice most of the time, when a person is talented in a particular field, is to stick with it.
Here are some caveats. By enjoyment, rightly understood, I don't mean laugh-a-minute, but long-term satisfaction. I distinguish between lawful and unlawful activities, and also tell young men that unless they are called to singleness, they will want an occupation sufficiently remunerative so that wives are not required to work outside the home when they have young children. I also offer a tie-breaker question to those rare individuals who have several areas of talent: Is there a particularly great need in one of those areas, perhaps because relatively few people have the talent and inclination to achieve great things within it?
Here's the summary: TE, talent and enjoyment, often comes down to talent alone, and then finding particular employment that fits a person to a T. God does not distribute talent by chance. If God gives someone a lot of something, it's not accidental, but a signal from on high that it should be used for God's glory.
Many students ask, essentially, What do I want to be? My suggestion is that God has in most cases already answered that question by handing out sets of talents and capacities. The better question to ask is, What has God shown, by His distribution of abilities, that He wants me to be? Some people react by saying, "But I may not like what God has chosen out for me." When a person is maximizing talents, he usually learns to like his God-arranged career, even if it might not be what he would have chosen for himself. A career does not need to be love at first sight. It does need to be a good match.