By A.C. Miller –
Though well meaning, the encouragement to “find your calling” can be fraught with class-tinged presumptions that should be examined against economic reality. Especially if we are talking about aligning one’s paycheck with one’s higher purpose, the exhortation to find your calling presumes several things, including access to education and training, access to capital, a robust and fair job market, and a level of economic security that permits one to reach beyond simple survival. Not everyone has these advantages.
Consider the following: * Working wages have remained largely flat for the past 50 years; here in Tulsa County, median household income peaked in 1969 at an inflation-adjusted $43,370.
* Thirty years ago, earnings from a summer job could pay for the coming year’s college tuition, but today’s students would need to work full-time for half a year to cover that cost.
* Millennials – Americans aged 18-40 – are reporting that student loan debt is causing them to defer major milestones of adult life; 19% said they had put off marriage, while 30% said they had postponed home ownership. * In July, there were 1.9 million Americans working multiple part-time jobs instead of one full-time job, with women outnumbering men nearly 2 to 1. * In a June survey by Bankrate, only 22% of respondents had enough rainy-day savings to cover the recommended 6 months of expenses, and 29% reported no savings at all.
In such a challenging environment, many Americans are hustling to keep the boss happy, make the car payments, put shoes on their kids’ feet, and tuck away a little something in the vague hope of retiring someday. A career that also delivers existential fulfillment might be hard to arrange.
This is not to say that we cannot find purpose and meaning in our lives – just that the notion of drawing this inspiration from our jobs could well be obsolete for most Americans. This is not necessarily a tragic shift. This reality drives us toward the touted idea of work-life balance. Alongside our jobs, we have the opportunity to find a vocational purpose – to connect with others in the community through volunteer work, through hobbies and interests, and through places of worship.
Instead of deriving a disproportionate sense of our self worth from our economic productivity, we can identify more fully with the other aspects of our lives. This approach to finding our calling breaks with traditional privileged thinking about the significance of careers, but it might help us live more realistically and sustainably in an economy where higher purpose often assumes a lower priority.