Some 100 pages into 48 Days to the Work You Love, author Dan Miller lists sentences not to put on a resumé. Among them are: "I am a rabid typist," "Worked party-time as an office assistant," "My experience in horticulture is well-rooted," and "With my obsession for detail, I make sure to cross my i's and dot my t's." A line like "Experienced in all faucets of accounting" would work only among Washington big-spenders.
If only finding the right position were as easy as avoiding such errors. Example: Law school graduate Robert Stillwell, who worked in the White House Office of Management and Budget during President George W. Bush's administration, read Miller's book and others as he searched for a post-Bush job. His experience included high-level work providing legal counsel on budget issues and even higher-level work serving as the White House Easter Bunny alongside President Bush.
Stillwell says he "found the path to take while exiting the White House by identifying the passions and desires God had laid on my heart and finding where they intersected with the skills and abilities He had given me." He spent time identifying his skills and abilities, networking (LinkedIn helped), and taking practical steps (48 Days helped). He gained inspiration from Eric Liddell's declaration in the film Chariots of Fire that when he runs he feels God's pleasure.
The identifying passions experience of Stillwell, who now works with a leading management consultant firm, rings true to what I've found in advising students over the past three decades. One place to start: List your dreams and passions. What is it you find naturally enjoyable? If money were not important, what would you spend your time doing? When do you find the time just flying by? What are those recurrent themes that keep coming up in your thinking? What did you enjoy as a child but perhaps have been told was unrealistic or impractical to focus on as a career?
Since man does not live on bread, houses, or cars alone, putting material considerations first in choosing a career is an invitation to disaster. As Miller writes, asking "How can I achieve that position, status, and power? [is] likely to be an elusive path, leading to rapid burnout." Saying "show me the money," going with "what will be in the most demand," or searching for security are also ways to choose wrongly: A rapidly changing work environment means that "little security is found in any company or job." But looking for the most "godly" or "humanitarian" jobs may also be a mistake: "While honorable, using these as external criteria can misdirect a person from doing what is a proper 'fit.'"
I've found two things to be key: Understanding the biblical approach to work, and understanding the talents God has given you. Biblically, work is not "that necessary evil that consumes the time between our brief periods of enjoyment on the weekends." It's not "primarily a method of paying the bills" or "the shortest path to retirement."
Instead, just as the heavens declare the glory of God by showing the majestic extent of His creation, so we glorify God by showing the creative powers that He has given us. Think of the Hebrew word avodah, from which come both the words "work" and "worship." Monday through Saturday are not secular days but days in which we worship as we work. Life is to be unified, with everything we do serving God.
Miller writes of three workers at the Nissan plant in middle Tennessee summarizing their workdays. One, thinking in terms of job, says, "I'm a welder-that's what they pay me for each Friday." The second, thinking in terms of career, says, "I'm making a beautiful car today." The third worker is thoughtful for a moment and then responds, "I'm helping to create innovative and responsible transportation for individuals, families, and companies." That's vocation, or calling.
If we get that straight, the next question is: How do you find your calling? I'd suggest a self-exam with two questions: What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? The first question is important because God doesn't hand out talents in such a willy-nilly way that most people are good in multiple areas-or, to be precise, so good that others will pay them to do it. And, most people come to find that they enjoy what they're good at, because God gives us the desire to gain pleasure from being productive (and having others respect our work).
Sometimes, though, what we most enjoy is not what we're good at-and then it's important to give ourselves enough time to see if we can become good. But Miller rightly criticizes "sanctified ignorance . . . the belief that if we love God and have committed our lives to Him, everything will work out." He emphasizes that "knowing God's will is not some passive guessing game. Rather it is taking what God has already revealed to us and developing a plan of action"-and that includes an exit strategy if we find people over a period of time not appreciating what we most appreciate about ourselves.
Specific detail is important both in writing and in thinking about callings. In school, we learn to be generalists: The goal is to get on the honor roll by getting good grades in all classes. In the work world, though, we specialize: We need to become excellent at one thing, and failing at some others is not failure. Miller gives this good advice: "Work where you are the strongest 80 percent of the time, where you are learning 15 percent of the time, where you are weak 5 percent of the time."
He also notes that "fulltime Christian service" is a misleading expression, because "the Bible gives dignity to any work. All occupations are sacred." He's not saying that about prostitution or other ungodly vocations, but once we've dropped those negatives we also "need to eliminate the artificial ranking of the godliness of work. There are no second-class citizens in the workplace." Thinking of this theologically: We are all actors on God's stage who need to learn how we fit into His big story. Each role is important, and we are subjectively choosing moment by moment even though objectively the drama is already written: We can aspire to be heroes rather than villains or idiots.
Miller rightly describes the importance of challenges. Here's the first part of an ad that explorer Ernest Shackleton placed in the early 1900s as he looked for candidates for a South Pole expedition: "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, long hours." The ad drew more than 5,000 candidates. Here's David Livingston's response from Africa when the missionary society asked him if he had "found a good road" so that other missionaries could easily join him: "If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don't want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all."