My first job after graduating from university was with Exxon Corporation. I accepted a reservoir engineering position during my senior year and after graduation, I drove to Los Angeles and began working. I lived in a small Santa Monica apartment a few miles from Exxon’s Century City production office. I was passionate about working for a large energy company and using my newly obtained engineering skills.
When I arrived at work the first day, I was given a large binder full of information about Exxon and the production department. During the weekday evenings and on weekends, I carefully read the dense material as I wanted to be a model employee. I nobly joined the Exxon Credit Union and obtained an Exxon gas credit card. I read books, like Dress for Success by John T. Molloy, and bought business suits, as this was the office clothing of the 1980’s. I dreamed of rising through the corporation and eventually becoming an energy executive at the end of a storied career.
However, reality quickly set in. I was assigned to a senior engineer who gave me menial tasks which deflated my aspirations. My degree was in chemical engineering, but I did not have the required reservoir engineering competencies and it would take time to learn these new skills. Exxon sent me to numerous training seminars in Houston during my early years which upgraded my petroleum engineering skills. When I transferred 18 months later to Exxon’s Kingwood (Texas) district office, I had enough reservoir engineering skills to fully perform the job.
The media is full of information and stories about following your passion. I can relate to young people who list passion as their highest priority in life. Working just for money in a passionless occupation is mind numbing and energy sapping. Some workers do this while trying to find their passion while others stay at passionless positions for financial security. I advocate finding the right balance.
In a recent Financial Times (FT) opinion, Life, work and the pursuit of happiness: The search for satisfaction in our careers might bring fulfillment—but we need liberty too. (Andrew Hill, October 13, 2021), Hill writes “how younger recruits’ conviction that they will find autonomy and self-realization in their jobs creates unrealistic expectations. Like the first argument between a couple who married in the hope of endless happiness, the first boring day at work, balancing the books or fact-checking a share prospectus, can come as a shock.” I watched two close university friends divorce after two years of marriage because one of them wanted their marriage to always be infatuating. When the infatuation declined, she left the marriage and never remarried.
I believe in following your passion and using your God-given gifts to uplift your community. Placing a single bet on life’s roulette wheel may occasionally win the jackpot, but statistically, it is a poor bet. My nephew is a professional trumpet player. He spent nine years after high school in colleges and graduate schools, then a couple of years auditioning for an open position in the armed services’ national military bands. During his many years of musical training, he was single and lived on very little. He did not need to support a family and if he did not make it in music performance, he would be able to teach music somewhere. He chose the military because he would play with the best brass musicians, have good benefits, and have a base in Washington DC. My nephew balanced his passion and other priorities.
I advised and mentored many young professionals while working. Some were disgruntled with their current jobs, and others sought advice on their careers. I told these passionate workers to seek learning positions that increased their tool chest of skills. What tools were they missing or need upgrading? What positions were there in the organization that could both use their current skills and give them new skills? Workers are hired for both their immediate competencies and their ability to grow while in the job. Employees who believe that their jobs are created solely to advance their passions are just as naïve as employers who only hire workers to do menial, repetitious tasks without any ability to upgrade their skills. These are lose-lose propositions.
Erin Cech, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Michigan, writes about young workers coming out of COVID: “There seems to be this sentiment that ‘security be damned, we’re trying to find meaning’.” Cech is referring to financial security. Being passionate about a job is understandable, especially when you are beginning your career. However, finding meaning within a job is the ultimate futility. Jobs are finite; they come and go like the wind. Meaning is derived through following God’s truths as reveled through discipleship, prayer, and community. Balancing your passion with other priorities allows time to focus on the infinite, something far greater than self-realization and finite jobs.