But let’s pretend.
Greeting, class of 2011. Welcome to a broken world.
We’ve managed to mess it up, you have to admit. You will never pay off the nation’s debt, regardless of which party is running the country. And the odds you will get a job doing whatever you just paid $80,000 for is pretty slim.
Please accept my regrets.
But frankly, I didn’t get the job I studied for either. Hardly anybody does. I got a better job, actually, and most of the stuff that matters I taught myself. Learning is more about finding our calling than about going to class. As you figure out where you fit you will begin to learn the really important stuff. Because you will begin to pay attention.
We need you to learn important stuff. And make important stuff too. Certainly the problems are huge. But we haven’t taught you all you all you need to know because many of the things you have to learn and make are still unknown and still unmade.
The first thing you have to learn, however, is who you are. Your peers can’t really help you with this. They don’t even know who they are. For this reason, older wiser mentors are a good idea. The can often help you find your vocation, a place where, in Frederick Buechner’s words, “your great joy meets the world’s great need.”
One reason you may not know what this is yet is you think the world’s great need is somewhere else, and it’s been down the hall or across the street all this time.
We work out our calling in ordinary ways, not extraordinary causes. We focus on daily opportunities, not just once-in-a-lifetime ones. We find what we love and even what we truly want by loving our neighbors and our God. That’s what Jesus said.
Saving the whales, or whatever the cause of the day is, reflects our vocation, but does not define it. The work of life is much more tangible than that. It might involve passing the milk or washing the dishes. Or rather a way of doing such things, with intention and goodwill.
This life work often requires a job or an enterprise to sustain it. And the job you take or the company you start may connect with it on some grand scale. Or not.
But the way you do it, the things it teaches you, even the way you wait for it, all this reveals your character and unlocks your heart.
And it begins now.
Not when you get your first job. Not when you get your first apartment. It begins today, this search for significance grounded in service to people you actually know and meet.
You must be interested in them. You must ask them questions and care about the answers. You must engage new people and new ideas, no longer living in a self-created world bounded by your very similar friends with very similar interests doing very similar things.
Because it is here, in this broader experience of human need and potential, that you will find the work your heart yearns for, even if you aren’t paid for it.
You will also find your limitations, which are many. Part of the reason the world is so messed up is because we are all messed up. This is why we look beyond ourselves, to the grace of God revealed in his Son.
As this grace pours down upon us, it also flows through us. And the work you are looking for is finding a way to be a channel of it. Such work motivates you to learn more stuff and build better stuff, but to do it in purposeful ways for worthwhile purposes.
So don’t go home and live in your parent’s basement, watching reruns on TV. You might have to sleep there, but go out to dinner with their friends, take care of a kid at church, push yourself out the door, learning about and serving others.
This is not so you won’t be depressed, although it will help with that. This is so you will discover what makes you tick and open doors to new opportunities.
You won’t find your calling in the basement, staring in the mirror, thinking about all your problems.
You will find your calling in the face of others.
There too you will find your joy.