I lived in Europe for over 9 years and traveled to many countries, both professionally and personally. I observed that different cultures have different views on work. For example, when I discussed with Shell Hamburg (Germany) gas marketing staff what aspects of their work motivated them, I was surprised to learn that their highest priority was receiving a pension. They worked mainly to have security in retirement. This was rarely highlighted by my American colleagues until they were close to retirement. Yet, young working Germans decades away from retirement were motivated by financial security when no longer working.
Dr. Firmin DeBrabander, a professor of philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art, published a New York Times Labor Day editorial titled: Should Work Be Passion, or Duty? “Americans are uniquely obsessed with work. … the United States offers a curious paradox: Though the standard of living has risen, and creature comforts are more readily and easily available – and though technological innovations have made it easier to work efficiently – people work more, not less.”
Dr. DeBrabander quotes a recent study on the priorities of young people that “found that achieving one’s career passion ranks highest of all – more than making money or getting married. Finding a fulfilling job is almost three times more important than having a family, teenagers in the study reported.” He cites some of the negative consequences of Workism: burnout, less socialization, and dysfunctional families. Many Americans have observed these trends.
He offers an alternative – duty. “Instead of straining to discover your one true passion, and devote your life and soul to it, study yourself and the needs of those around you. Frankly assess what you can do, how you are best equipped to serve, and work. Also: identify the several jobs you are called to do – inside and outside the home – and do them well.” Christians should take an additional step by asking: “Where is God at work today?” Then follow in mission and use your God-given talents to uplift your community towards the new creation.
Dr. DeBrabander writes: “Play the role you are given.” He actually expands ‘role’ into many roles: parent, child, friend, citizen, etc. Our multi-role lives will lessen the burden placed by concentrating on a career. God is the giver and Christians are to seek direction through prayer, reading Scripture, worship, and serving. “There is not one path to fulfillment, but many.” The Spirit will take you down the right path.
Many people want to ‘change the world’ during their career. “Too often, we misjudge the nature and standard of success. … We are often ill equipped to measure, much less detect the fruits of our labor.” Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ was executed to silence him. I have heard atheists label Jesus a ‘loser.’ Yet his death and resurrection started a movement that today has 2.2 billion followers, about one-third of the global population. Dr. DeBrabander quotes Seneca, a Roman Stoic philosopher who lived during the time of Jesus Christ: “Just do your duty, and think of little else.” I would alter Seneca’s quote: Just be faithfully obedient, and think of where God is leading you.