Key Takeaway: Would you choose to race, or to accept a call? And would the race be worth it, or not? I do know the call is worth it. I invite you to reflect on answering your vocation as opposed to being engaged in careerism.
Catholic education, due to its very nature, has a way of seamlessly integrating values formation in its pupils’ lives, making good use of its role as a nurturer representative of the Church to the youth. The Jesuit school of thought (pun intended), in particular, empowers its charges to be responsible leaders – leaders, yes, but for the sake of others, and always in light of glorifying God. This mirrors Society of Jesus founder St. Ignatius of Loyola’s analogy of turning from a soldier of his country to a soldier of God – and in each of their own way, we too are drafted to this spiritual army.
I went to a Jesuit university for college, and one of the lessons that has always stuck into my mind was also one of my last there. It was for the fourth and last part of the mandatory (or “core”) Theology program, which was a synthesis of the previous three and challenged the student, in light of the aforementioned studies, to decide on their commitment before they left the university’s walls. In our case, it was the first topic we took up, and it shaped the entire term’s subject content: answering your calling, or your vocation.
“Vocation” is derived from the Latin vocare (“to call”), and in this sense means a divine calling – the call of God to serve Him and fulfill His purposes of love and justice. Some may think it’s limited to clergy (in the sense that they’re called to serve in the priesthood or higher), but I tell you, it is for everyone. As I mentioned before, we each have something we fervently believe in and thus stand up for – and our vocations are very closely related to those things.
The lesson contrasted vocation with careerism, or an unhealthy focus on one’s career for various reasons, be it prestige, wealth, even supporting one’s family – or even a misheard calling. Our professor was somewhat radically against corporate careers and insisted it was possible for everyone to help themselves and others from the onset, a position I agree with though I do not take as extreme a stand as he does. However, I believe that our educational system and even to a certain extent our society (or some segments thereof) has been running on the mindset that we are trained to go and work for big companies to gain a lifetime of experience (and of course, at the same time, that wonderful “necessity” we call financial stability that is much craved in a country like the Philippines). Job offers by placement offices refer us to companies looking for management trainees or associates. Even worse, the honor students are expected to land top jobs and even be deployed overseas in the not-too-distant future. Not to venture into startups – or at least not right away, under the guise of the need for experience.
My professor explained it with a nice analogy: career (Spanish carera) is related to carrera, Spanish (Filipino karera) for “race” (as in the competition) – why the need to “race” towards something? Is it worth all the energy and effort?
I sometimes wonder what the usual end goal of this train of thought is that makes it so opposite from vocation. Money? There’s a fine line between financial security and killing yourself softly just to get rich. Prestige? Would you be able to take to heaven your CEO title? Experience? For what, if you plan to chase your way up the corporate ladder? At the extreme, it’s borderline idolatry already. And would genuine fulfillment and joy in life be gotten from that?
Some might, or feel they do. But I know I wouldn’t.
I know I can’t bring my wealth or status with me when I die – in fact, I can’t bring anything with me at all. No one can. So what’s the point in trying to amass as much things – abstract or concrete – for yourself if you won’t have it forever anyway? (There’s a difference between that and providing for your children.) It would make more sense to invest in something eternal or sustainable, something that will keep going on long after you’re gone. It would make sense to give to the world rather than take from it. And, ultimately, it would make sense to invest in your creator, your God, who is eternal.
The latter is what happens when we respond to our calling.
As an honor student myself, with two minors to boot, I never even considered going corporate; I only half-heartedly applied to several companies. Yet now, when the price I pay is a (much) slower way up the financial security ladder and many awkward questions from long-unseen peers and relations, I actually feel free and happy, without all the pressures of serving someone or something I may not even particularly like or feel happy and fulfilled in. The pain of not being able to buy something expensive as soon as I’d like is nothing compared to the pain of regret at not taking the opportunity to serve and to help others.
How did I know what I’m doing nowadays – social enterprise and personal-social development – was my calling? For starters, it was what I felt the most passionate about, to the point that I couldn’t contain myself when I had no one to talk to about it. I literally felt as if I had been given a new lease on life when I heard about it – something to live for. Of course, and as I learned only quite recently, that in itself can still be egotistic, as you feel that it will fill you up and make you feel fulfilled.
But even after letting go and trying to put everything into the hands of my Father and my God, it was still there – and I therefore knew I had stumbled on the right track. Maybe not the exact trail (I kept going back and forth personal social responsibility for the sake of others, and social enterprise), but I was moving in the right direction (it’s all about social innovation and development). So I persevere, even though it’s very difficult.
Yes, I’m warning you, answering your call will be difficult. I myself struggle everyday and wonder if I’m not doing it for His sake or my own. But Jesus never said it would be easy – in fact, He predicted that all those who follow Him will suffer. But as long as we keep the faith, and live it out, we will be rewarded in the end – it is promised us.
More on this soon as it’s gotten me thinking again. 😉
Happy weekend ahead!